Bon Voyage, EuroTrip 2017 (Paris in Springtime)

 

Paris. I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again. This is my favorite place on earth. My trip ended where it began in this place that I love. My last few days comprised a trip to the Louvre, delicious noms, making sure I had everything I needed, and a reunion with my high school French teacher and color guard coach. During this time, I also day-tripped to Reims with my buddy, L. I walked along the Seine; ate chaussons aux pommes, confit de canard (a few times), steak frites; and purchased about 10 bags of carambars fruits to bring home (that disappeared way too quickly). IMG_2230

My first time in Paris was in January–it was cold, grey, and wet, but I loved it nonetheless. My second time in Paris was my study abroad from August to December. I enjoyed Paris in the summer and fall, and a brief hint of winter again. In 2017, it was my first time visiting Paris (and Europe in general) in the spring. And boy…She did not disappoint. My favorite place in the world put on a glorious spring show for my last days in Europe.

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I was glad to have this time in Paris. After my mom died the first few hours I was there in Fall 2016, I thought that the feelings I felt then would be my association with the city forever. And in some ways, it will. I will never be able to think of Paris without thinking of my mom–but if I hadn’t been on my way to Paris in 2016, I wouldn’t have seen my mom the day before she (suddenly) died. I thought about my mom a lot those last few days. Everywhere I looked were things that reminded me of her: the beautiful flowers, the advent of spring, meeting up with my high school teacher. All things that reminded me how complex grief can be. I think I love Paris more now because it will always remind me of my momma, two of my favorites that I love the most in the world.

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And with my last few days in Paris, EuroTrip 2017 came to a close. It was *such* a good trip. Though there were some negatives– rain, lack of internet, loneliness, sunburns, and sore feet–those have faded with time, I remember those less than the positives — the art! the cities! the sights! the weather! the flowers! the reunions! the food! Plus, I think I have a good handle on how to tackle some of those problems for future trips (read: in a few short weeks!). Ciao and au revoir to Eurotrip 2017!

Reims 2017

After my sejour in the South of France, I headed back up north to Paris to conclude my trip. I was ready, more than ready to go home, and regain some kind of routine. That’s the hardest part of travel for me, the lack of routine. My last major stop was Reims to see the incredible and grand Porte de Mars. I had previously been to Reims in 2004 when I first came to France, back when I had absolutely zero knowledge about art history. I was glad to return, especially because I got to do so with my art history BFF L (who has her own art historical allegiance to Reims.)

BUT FIRST! We followed the orders of one of our professors who told us to check out the Musée de la Reddition — the Museum of the Surrender where World War II officially ended on May 7, 1945 (though, May 8 is generally seen as the end of the war, as the Soviets gained control of Berlin). It was a small museum, with an engaging video intro (in which we hear Eisenhower attempt to speak French, poor fellow), lots of period artifacts, and the room itself preserved as it was in 1945. L and I both enjoyed stepping out of our usual historical purviews to something that feels so much more immediate. As Reims is close to the French/German border, played an important role in the movement of troops and supplies, particularly after the Allied arrival.

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L and I both enjoyed stepping out of our usual historical purviews to something that feels so much more immediate. As Reims is close to the French/German border, played an important role in the movement of troops and supplies, particularly after the Allied arrival.

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The Porte de Mars should have been right around the corner. Should have been. It was, but, perhaps owing to the presence of a large carnival (the likes of which I never considered existing in Europe), it took us a minute to realize that the giant grey, scaffolded thing was in fact the object of my fancy. Completely, entirely covered. I stuck my head as far as I could into the small gap only just visible in the photo. I couldn’t see much. Thus, the wind was out of my sails, and we had a much more open and free day in Reims.

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We made do! L was very patient with me; I only brought one pair of walking shoes with me, so my feet were like, DONE with Europe and all of the walking and our day in Reims was nearly 10 miles of walking. We ate, walked, and explored the city and what it had to offer (that was open!)

 

Arles

Though there are no extant arches in Arles, in antiquity there were several, and now it is home to one of the region’s largest archaeological museums. I took the train on a beautiful day, and walked to the museum, blissfully unaware that there was a free bus service that led from the train station to the museum. It was a longer yet beautiful walk alone the Rhône, unfortunately, my already sun sore skin was exposed even further and I could feel it get crispier and crispier. I felt like the dead little guy there in that waffenstücken.

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The Arles museum was one of the biggest of its type that I have seen in France. I could have spend much longer there. One of the most remarkable things they had in their collection was a riverboat that had been pulled from the Rhône in the past 20 years. Preserved using a process that replaced the water that had infused the wood with a preservative resin, the boat was HUGE. The picture here does not do it justice. Beyond the boat, the Arles museum had some canonical sculptures, sarcophagi, and mosaics.

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After my time at the museum was done, I was not looking forward to long walk back to the train station, when I happily learned that there was a shuttle. I got off the shuttle when my google maps told me I was getting close to the Arles amphitheatre, so I could do some walking around and exploring about the part of Arles I cared about, which was right next to the train station. I found a small bistro in which to eat where the motherly proprietor clucked over my ever-reddening sunburn and brought me a small cut of aloe to rub. I ate a giant omelet with some of the most delicious frites I’ve ever had.

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Arles was, in short, completely charming. It was sleepy in late March, perhaps a little too sleepy, but it like Avignon, pulled at my emotions and made me never want to leave. #Retirement goals.

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Site Archeologique de Glanum (St. Rémy de Provence)

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Glanum, and Saint Rémy, remains the most beautiful place I think I’ve ever been. There were a few monuments I wanted to see, largely the monuments belonging to the Julii family from the late Republic and early Empire.

I was not expecting to be so overcome with the beauty of the archaeological site. Provence was on full spring display–trees were in bloom, the sun was out– so much so I had to visit the pharmacy afterwards and get some medicine for my sunburn.

 

I wandered the site for a while, almost in a state of complete awe. It was just too beautiful. Continuously occupied since pre-Roman times, the site was abandoned at some point in the third or fourth century. I quickly learned why escargot became a French delicacy…snails were literally everywhere. At one point, it was unavoidable to actually step on them.

IMG_1817It was here at this site that I was just overcome by the combination of all of my favorite things. I was in France! There were arches! It was beautiful outside! There was an archaeological kitty that followed me around! I named her Octavia (the site had two portraits, one of Octavia and one of Livia. Since there’s already a cat important to me named Livia, this one was Octavia. Super friendly and attention seeking.

Just look how beautiful!

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Carpentras

The following day was Monday and I faced two problems. The first, is that I wasn’t feeling very well, so I wasn’t sure I wanted to do one of the bigger sites AND they weren’t open. So I decided that this was then the day that I should visit Carpentras, a smallish city with a minor arch I wanted to visit.

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The arch is fragmented, and immediately adjacent to the Cathèdrale de Saint Sufferin. A bishopric that dated to as early as the fourth century, though this church dates to the 15th, and underwent some editing during the Revolutionary period. The arch itself was fun, but one of those awful kind that I was not able to see, nor get close to, which is always a bummer.

It was another beautiful day in Provence–it was like it wanted to show me how beautiful (and warm!) it could be, rather than the rainy and wet welcome I received earlier.

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Carpentras itself was not a terribly remarkable town, but as usual, I enjoyed walking around and exploring it while searching out my arch. It was a beautiful train ride, as usual, and I had to take my obligatory train photo. It was another beautiful day in Provence–it was like it wanted to show me how beautiful (and warm!) it could be, rather than the rainy and wet welcome I received earlier.

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Orange

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My visit to Orange was the main reason I went to Provence. With the most famous example of an arch monument in France, it’s a must see for my work. Not only does Orange have an outstanding arch, but one of the oldest completely extant theater complexes in the west with a nearly fully preserved scaenae frons. The first few days I was in Provence it was pouring rain, so I wasn’t able to go to Orange until Sunday, and I had to go then, as it was closed on Monday and Tuesday (navigating opening days is the hardest bit about travel in Europe!) Being Sunday, the town itself was very quiet and sleepy, with not many restaurants open in which to prend un verre.

 

The theater was fantastic–I had it nearly all to myself so it was hard to imagine it teeming with theater-goers centuries ago (and kind of amazing to have it all to myself!) The exterior wall behind the stage front was once called, by one of the King Louis’s, “the greatest wall in France.”

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The arch was, in short, amazing. The pictures I took that day are some of my favorites, as the sky was one of those beautiful early-spring days with large fluffy clouds. I was slightly concerned because there was some construction on the roundabout that surrounded the arch, and it was technically fenced off. I decided to consider that fence a suggestion and visit it anyway– and there was a hidden benefit of it being Sunday! There were no workers or construction folks working on the roundabout to get in my way. Or accuse me of trespassing.

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I love love love when I can pass through the arches bays. Sometimes they’re blocked off, which is understandable I suppose, but this trip I was fairly lucky and more arches were open than not. The contrast of the bright and the dark of the passageway are literally one of my favorite views.

Alps to Avignon – 2017

My journey from Susa to Avignon was the most eventful trip of the entire trip, and resulted in the very first BAD mood (not just cranky, but BAD). I was *very* excited about passing through the mountains and finally getting myself to the South of France. Turin, while I had enjoyed it, had been stressful (surprising lack of internet) and just stress of my own creating (I imagined my hotel had bedbugs. It did not.) I was ready to get to France, but also sad to be leaving Italy. I felt 100% more comfortable in the northern half of Italy than I had in Rome and Naples.

Leaving Turin that morning was a hassle. It was not a long walk to the train station, but it was pouring rain. I super dislike getting wet in clothing, plus the added difficulty of having glasses. Google also decided to be difficult, and told me to take turns down road that had tall fences that stopped pedestrians from crossing them. Finally arriving at the Porta Susa train station, I hurried in search of the standard train station bar to grab my last delightful Italian macchiato and cornetto con crema. The bar was completely overwhelmed by people, and the line went on and on and on and on. I hate lines, and I hate waiting and I wanted to find my platform instead of wait. So I had my very first vending machine coffee, but you’ll be pleased to note that Italian coffee vending machines are far superior to their counterparts in the US.

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I was training from Torino to Lyon, then Lyon to Avignon. I was scheduled about a 40 minute wait at the station in Lyon, which was a healthy wait for a train, plenty of time to find your platform (unless you’re at the Bologna train station, sheesh). From the get go though, the train was late, projected to arrive five minutes after my train to Avignon left. Enter super stressed out Charlotte for like the entire ride. I did enjoy the scenery, but nowhere near as much as I should have.

When I arrived in Lyon, I was the first person off the train, and like jumped off the train before it stopped moving. Amazingly, there was a train-man (what’s the technical name…brain fart) and he yelled at me “AVIGNON?!” and I screamed back, “OUI!” He hollered at me that the train was on Platform 8 and that I should go! So I went, and thankfully it was not far. Upon reaching Platform 8 there was another trainman who asked if I was the passenger from Turin to Avignon and I said yes, and the second my feet were on the train it began moving. I collapsed in my seat so happy to have made it with all of my stuff in tow.

It was raining in Avignon as well. I was staying in an hotel for one night before my airbnb was available (and I wish I had stayed there the entire time. It was affordable and the breakfast was delicious, and there were people that I could have said hi to every day instead of dwelling in my solitude. And the internet worked! But I didn’t know yet that this would be an issue, haha). A very sodden and travel-weary Charlotte made her way to the hotel.

Regardless of the bad weather and the rain, I was immediately charmed by Avignon, I adored it. After getting some dinner in my belly (because remember, I didn’t get lunch b/c of the train mishap, nor did I have breakfast b/c of the bar wait) the crankiness wore away. I was in Avignon, in the south of France, where I had always wanted to go. The internet worked at the hotel, and I was again reconnected with the the world. I called my dad and sister and enjoyed my kebab (probably my favorite travel food) and watched some crappy tv.

The next morning I awoke hoping to find sun, but was displeased. It was again pouring wet, but I wanted to explore. So I did after a charming house-made breakfast with homemade jam. I had fun eavesdropping on the other guests’ conversation and practicing my French. The innkeeper man said my comprehension was superb. I, since the weather was so gross, essentially had Avignon to myself. There’s something beautiful about a rainy city, so I tried to appreciate it for what it was, which was shockingly beautiful and perfect.

 

I met up with my AirBnB which was charming. It was a cute little apartment on the top floor of a 17th-century building. At first I was quite pleased, but by the end of the day, I was kind of frustrated, as the internet had completely stopped working. Curse of the internet. It started in Torino and followed me for the rest of the trip.

But! The sun returned by the end of the day, and, in retrospect, beautiful, beautiful Provence, with all of its blooms and bites, made up for the lack of interwebs.

A Day Trip to Susa

Sorry for the long absence…life got in the way…to pick up where I left off…I was in Turin taking in the sights of the Piedmont.

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My main goal for visiting the Turin was to visit the Arch of Augustus in Susa. Susa is a small town in between Turin and France. The train ride from Turin to Susa was probably one of the most beautiful of my life. Like Turin, it rained, but it rained on and off, and totally stopped long enough for me to hike out to my arch, do my thing, and then get back to the train.

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The building at the peak of that mountain is the Sacra di San Michele, a former Benedictine abbey (now run by another order), that dates to the 12th century. (Umberto Eco based his novel, The Name of the Rose, on this Abbey.)

The city of Susa was charming and small. I didn’t have a lot of time to spend there, but my path to the arch led me through the town center…The town was super sleepy and not very populated…but that was okay with me. Like in Turin, while I was walking through Susa, I had a hard time believing I was in the same country as Naples.

 

A small sampling of the small town of Susa.

Finally, I found my arch. I knew it was in the mountains, but I had no idea just how beautiful of a site this arch occupied. The view was incredible, like ridiculously so. So ridiculously beautiful, I was moved to song. Now for those of you that know me well, I am usually singing. I also love The Sound of Music, and most musicals generally. Perhaps unsurprisingly, while walking around the arch and its surroundings (see the pic below of what the arch overlooks), thinking myself entirely alone, I sang loudly and at full voice the title song from The Sound of Music. IMG_1423

A few minutes into my warbling, I realized I was not as alone as I imagined. Hidden below the hill, was a large group of teenaged students on a tour of the town. I heard some applause, and promptly blushed in horror as the climbed the hill to explore my arch. A few of them smiled and said, “brava!” and the tour guide leading them gave me the biggest grin..many of them didn’t care. Never have I been more glad to be confident in my vocal talents, and it’s a story I’ll remember for forever. And honestly…WHO WOULDN’T BREAK INTO SONG AT THAT VIEW?

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Me and the group of students that caught me and my vocal stylings. 

After completing my work, I headed back to the train station and the sky opened up. I enjoyed the view again on my way back to Turin. I treated myself to a late afternoon gyro (when in Europe?) and enjoyed my last few days in Italy.

 

Turin/Torino

Torino, or Turin, is not like any other city I’ve been to in Italy, and honestly, it didn’t quite feel like I was in “Italy” anymore. (Truthfully, now that I’ve been all over Italy, Italian is such a misleading adjective; there are not many constants.) The city, like Trieste, clearly had some glorious periods in the days of yesteryear and yore, but Turin wears its age better. It, unlike Trieste, does not have the shipping component, so it makes it feel a little less seedy — read: not at all seedy. However, unlike Florence, Siena, Rome, Venice, or Naples, Turin doesn’t seem to get its share of [American] tourists (this is my subjective understanding).

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The view from my airbnb’s window. The city was completely charming architecturally, even if it was rainy.

I was only in Turin for a little while, mainly to visit another town that was super small, so I do not know a lot about its history. The main points of historical interest are that the Turin was the seat of the Dukes of Savoy, later the royal house of Italy, and the first capital of unified Italy. The seeds of unification were first sewn in Turin. If you have been to any town in Italy, chances are you have seen some street, square, or other landmark with the name “Cavour” (literally at least one in every town); this refers to Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour who was from Turin and instrumental in Italy’s unification.

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The Piazzetta Reale, in front of the Royal Palaces of Turin, where the city’s museums are housed. You can see the main train station, Porta Nuova, if you follow the main street to the end.

In Torino, a few unhappy trends began for my trip — if I had to say I had a “bad leg” of my trip it would start here (even though I didn’t have a bad time). Turin began what I refer to as the “week of Rain.” It wasn’t actually a week where it rained on my trip, but it felt like it. However, there were a ton of covered sidewalks and storefronts that permitted folks to walk around without getting (very) soaked. The Great Curse of No Internet also began in Torino; my airbnb tried to get it working but they couldn’t verify what was wrong. Now, I’m a little ashamed to admit how much this stressed me out. The internet was my lifeline. I had settled into a really comfortable routine on this trip where I did all of my stuff out and about during the day, had a late dinner, then settled in for the evening with a few eps of whatever show was available to me on Netflix in Italy or France. Just the *noise* of someone speaking English to me helped with the loneliness factor A LOT. Losing that stressed me out. A lot.

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My breakfast one morning…bicerin (it sounds like you’re calling someone the b-word), a cornetto con crema and some biscuits. Bicerin is a Piemontese drink that was invented in Turin that has espresso, chocolate, heavy cream or milk, and whipped cream. It was divine.

I only had one day to explore Turin and a I had a lot I wanted to do. The Museo Egizio had come highly recommended and as the only museum dedicated solely to Egyptian antiquity outside of Egypt, I had to go. It is a fantastic museum. Now I do have to be honest, for someone who had been used to quiet Croatia, relatively quiet Rimini and Ancona, the Museo Egizio was a little overwhelming. It was field trip central and I swear every Italian aged 6-9 was squeezed into the Museo Egizio the day I was there. I remember my field trips as a kid, and ones I’ve run myself as a camp counselor in college. You were in a line, there were many many rules and failure to follow the rules meant you could lose field trip privileges! Not the case here…I was overwhelmed and overstimulated by the noise. And the clerk said it was quiet that day.

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One of the statues from the Gallery of Kings — don’t remember who, and it doesn’t matter, they all look the same (that’s on purpose) — The internet says Seti II

The collection was frankly fantastic. Turin houses some of the most precious Egyptian artefacts in Europe; much of it gained through archaeological exploits in the 18th and 19th centuries. The collection was organized chronologically, with ample and informative labelling and wall text, and audio guides that you could tailor to your level of interest. One of the things I enjoyed, but am still not sure how I feel about it, is how the museum consciously engaged with more controversial parts of its history. Collecting practices of the 18th and 19th century were often thinly-veiled pillage; while not necessarily coming down in judgement upon the folks who did the pillaging, the Museo Egizio definitely didn’t shy away from at least talking about it in great depth. And that is super important. Honestly, I won’t say you should go to Turin just for the Museo Egizio, but if you’re there, you really should go. Give yourself the entire morning.

Snaps of the Savoy Palace: Ballrooms, entryways, hallways, and armories

The Savoy Palace was the next stop on my list. In Italy, several “museums” are often grouped together and form one big museum, and that was the case here. I came to the Savoy Palace not to see the royal residence, but to the visit the archaeological museum. Fortunately, they give you no choice, you have to go through most of the museum to get to the archaeological bits. It was a great museum, though I wish I were more up on my House of Savoy trivia as it would have been more enjoyable to know the historical figures who were associated with the palace.

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Silver bust of the second-century CE emperor Lucius Verus 

The highlight of the Savoy Palace was this guy right here. This ancient silver bust is extremely rare. While busts of precious metals certainly existed in antiquity, many were quickly melted down and reused. This, like most ancient objects in precious metal, was found in treasure hoard in 1928. The objects were buried, likely in late antiquity, for safekeeping and never reclaimed. It was so much larger than I expected, not quite life size, but close.

Since Torino was my last stop in Italy, I wanted to make sure I did all of the eating. AND I did. I didn’t eat one bad thing. Mmm. I miss Italy.

Ancona: A Day in Marche

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View of Ancona from the Ferretti Palace, it was a gorgeous day

My brief day trip to Ancona was another thing I was not very excited about. It’s a prominent harbor/seaport on the Adriatic, and for whatever reason I had an impression that the city could be a little rough and gritty. It’s not entirely untrue, a large part of the city, especially on the outskirts, is unrelentingly industrial and it doesn’t have…the polish, of other cities in Italy, but it was by no means a place where I felt unsafe even for a moment.

It was however very hilly, and for the first time, the train station was much farther away from where I needed to go, not crazy far, but just not close. It is in many ways super liberating as an American to train into a city and use your feet to get everywhere you need to go. Ancona was this trip’s exception. Between the hills and the distance, I decided to take a taxi to the Archaeological Museum, which was at the apex of the hill, in the 16th-century Ferretti Palace. English was not a thing here in Ancona, at least not to the folks I interacted with, and again that’s fine– there was a brief hang up because I only had a 50 euro bill, and I misunderstood the price of admission, but it all got worked out. (SideNote/ProTip — in Europe, always go to BNP Paribas ATMs …they give you a choice on you’d like your bills distributed. I know there are others that do it, but BNP Paribas ATMs are everywhere. NOBODY in Europe likes a 50 euro bill unless your purchase is 50 euro even.)

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The Ferretti Palace and the harbor at Ancona — The Ferretti Palace is blocking the view of my arch, which is in the harbor below. You can see a reconstruction of a group of equestrian statues on the roof…more on that momentarily. 

This museum was technically the archaeological museum of the Marche, the region to which Ancona belongs. It focused super strongly on the proto and pre-historic eras of history, with a nice glimpse into the Greek and Roman history of the city as well. I had the museum entirely to myself. So I took my time exploring, and taking care of business. There was a lot to see that was interesting, and lots of sherds and things that (sorry sherd nerds) I glossed over. It was nice to take my time and have so much to wade through.

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The Gilt Bronzes from Cartocerto di Pergola, c. 1st century BCE/CE  (a copy of the original currently in Pergola)

On my way out, the woman working the front desk stopped me and told me to follow her! It was in this moment that I learned I can a) understand Italian a lot better than I give myself credit for and b) I do very well when the subject matter is something I’m super familiar with– like ancient Roman sculpture and art. She told me that a lot of people missed seeing these guys, and they were important and no one goes to Pergola so I needed to check them out. The Gilt Bronzes from Cartocerto di Pergola were found in Pergola in the 1940s and they were housed in the museum in Ancona until the 1970s when they were moved back to Pergola in a specially built museum. This is apparently a sore subject, based upon the guide’s tone and description. A copy was made however, which is what you see above. The Gilt Bronzes are SUPER important because they’re the largest surviving gilded bronze equestrian group from Roman antiquity. It comprises two equestrian figures (2 men, and 2 horses), and two women — the second rider doesn’t survive, and all of the other figures are fragmentary. Even in modern copy, it was impressive.

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Isn’t this picture just so stereotypical Europe? At least in the minds of Americans? 

After finishing up on the museum, I made the descent down the GIANT HILL OF ANCONA (after the flatness of Venice and Rimini, I was spoiled) to find my way to the Arch of Trajan, the major reason for my visit. Along the way I saw many scenic vistas and buildings, continuing to erase the negative conception I had previously had about Ancona. It wasn’t like any other Italian city I had been to (there are SO many wonderful little cities and towns that are each unique in their own way), but it was charming in its own right.

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You can see the more picturesque Ancona (foreground) juxtaposed with the kinda-gross-Ancona (background) 

I eventually wound myself down the switchbacks of the hill, and started upon the track to the arch. It was like immediately being in a different town because in order to get to the arch, you had to walk past a good mile of harbor stuff — a lot of it passenger ships. There were a few restaurants (most closed it was Sunday) and a nice walking path with the nice soft squishy material (what is that stuff called?) A good number of folks were out and about enjoying the pleasantly warm day.

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The Arch of Trajan at Ancona 

Eventually, there it was. The Arch of Trajan at Ancona in perhaps one of the most confusing juxtapositions of old and new that I’ve seen yet. The picture above captures some of it, but from all sides you had visible evidence of at least two millennia of cultural activity. It’s an impressive structure, one that was surprisingly difficult to photograph, thanks to the steps on the approach. It was a great spot for taking cheesy pictures of me in front of my arch thanks thanks to the architectural assemblage in the surrounding area.

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Me and my arcchhhh 

The rest of my time in Ancona was fairly brief and I had my only experience with the trains being messed up in Italy. The train was 45 minutes late. Luckily I didn’t have to be anywhere, but I was currently in a difficult spot because I *really* had to pee and the bathrooms only took 50 cent pieces and I didn’t have any (things were also closed because Sunday). The train FINALLY arrived, and I go to get on my car 3. Car three is closed down and other Italian speaking individuals spoke to the conductor who told them in very rapid Italian SOMETHING and gestured toward the rear of the train (and here’s where I learn how bad my Italian is)…I just follow them as they walk down the cars. Eventually we are stopped by another conductor, he examines each of their tickets and tells them something and I think he just assumed I was with them because I was just standing there like “uh…..Inglese?” and he’s like “Oh yeah! Car three is at the end. After car 8.” So to sum up, 45 minutes late, and two “Car 3″s! Ah the fun of travel!