A Travellerspoint blog

I Am Antique Lace Under Musée Glass

Museums in Rome, because that's what Tourists do, right?

sunny 26 °C

I woke up around 12:40. Figuring it was about as close to the middle of the night as it got without
deliberate effort, I decided to check the state of the sky. The sun had set, but the sky was still dark blue. If I’d tried, I might have been able to count three stars. Instead, I made sure the blinds were closed tighter and went back to sleep.

I woke up again later to eat breakfast in the hotel and, more importantly, catch a flight to Itayl. The Helsinki airport was shockingly crowded, with a line stretching to cover most of pre-security space. I don’t know what they were standing in line for, since we managed to drop off our bags (Even better: we managed to drop off our bags in a way that they went to Italy with us, not a way that they were confiscated by TSA) and go through security without standing in it.

This flight was about three hours. Finnair never tried to replace the map of where we were and statistics on altitude, temperature, speed, etc. with a movie, so I could spend the whole time just staring at the screen. I didn’t, but I could have.

The train to Rome was pretty, passing through a lot of fields and flowers. They kept making announcements only in Italian, so I really hope they weren’t important announcements. They did tell us when we arrived at the station, and that electronic cigarettes were strictly prohibited on the plane. The latter didn’t make any sense until I got to Rome and saw several different signs advertising electronic cigarettes. I’m still not clear what they are, but at least I know why the trains needed to warn against them.

We arrived at the apartment and got to set down luggage. I got a key that felt like it was preparing me for lockpicking. I need to kind of jiggle it to find the right spot, and then turn it till I hear a click. And if I believe the movies and TV shows I’ve seen, that’s basically all there is to lockpicking. Given all the difficulties I had with a real key, I hope there’s never a reason that I need to pick a lock.

Once I finally succeeded in locking the door, I started exploring Rome. As I was aimlessly walking, I noticed a sign for Macro, “Museum d’arte contemporana roma.” I have relative faith in the statement that when people think of art in Rome, they don’t think of modern art. Intrigued, I decided to go in.

When I walked down the entry hallway, it was just me and a person sitting at a desk. Later on, someone else came out of one of the doors on the side. That door locked behind him, to our disappointment and surprise. I wanted to get to the cafe and/or gallery that a sign was pointing me towards, and I wondered how he’d gotten in there in the first place.

Well, if I couldn’t open doors, I could still go down the flight of stairs in front of me. I did, looked in a bookstore (most of the books were in Italian, confirming my idea that the museum wasn’t trying to cater to American tourists) walked around a giant sculpture, and took a different flight of stairs up. I stepped out in front of the cafe.

It was pleasant. The waiter listened patiently to my attempts to read the Italian on the menu and addressed me in English from that point onward. The food and coffee were tasty, and almost every wall on the museum was either art or windows. The art was modern, but the views from the windows were pretty.

Leaving the cafe, I walked around the sculpture again, this time from the top. The sculpture was big, orange, and ugly, no matter what angle you looked at it from. Even from the very top, where there were built in benches to sit. The stained glass ceiling was kind of pretty, provided you only looked at the way the sunlight fell through it and onto something not orange.

At that point, I realized I really didn’t care about any galleries and went out the way I came in, trying not to get too disoriented. (I entered on ground floor. I went down a flight of stairs. There was an exit from there. I went up a flight of stairs to get to the cafe. I was looking out over the tops of trees. The two stairs felt like they were roughly the same size. It’s not that I get lost inside buildings often, it was a confusing building.) And then I went back to walking around Rome.

Because my last experience with a museum went so well, the next time I saw a museum, I decided to go into that one too. It was called “Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi- per le arti decorative costume e moda del XIX e XX Secolo.” Taking the closest French word to each of those, I roughly translate it as “for the decorative arts clothing and (something) from the XIX and XX centuries.

The only thing in English gives the hours that it’s open (which conveniently include the time I’m there) and the price of admission (free.) So I go in. Too far in- I accidentally walk onto private property, but the museum (guide? Curator? Person?) gets my attention. It soon becomes obvious that he speaks as much English as I speak Italian. And, lest I still have had any doubts that this was a must-see museum for all American tourists, in the visitor book the museum man has me sign, almost every other visitor’s nationality is listed as Italian.

The man went through and unlocked each room just for me, so I take my time looking at all the objects. The floors on the rooms are creaky, and the walls and ceilings have an old style. Not Roman ruins old, but the rooms seem like they could double as Victorian drawing rooms with a change of decoration. The main displays are pottery and clothing. So in one room, there’s a collection of ceramics c. 1900 that look like they could be older. The next room contains dresses from the 1970s. A third room contains a painting of Gregory 13, (the namesake of this museum) a wooden desk that would fit comfortably in the preserved houses of famous figures I’ve toured, a television, and a display case featuring shoes and jewelry similar to the kinds I could buy in a decently-sized department store.

That museum is Rome in a nutshell. It’s a modern city with remnants of history everywhere. The Aurelian Walls, built in the 3rd century, run right next to a major road. To compete with this antiquity, everything else needs to act older than it is to get attention. Victor Emmanuel II’s 1870 capture of Rome is commemorated by a worn statue with Roman numerals and Us that look like Vs. The Empire Palace Hotel, opened in 1999, gets its own plaque, like it’s a historical monument.

Rome is a strange city. There’s no question about it being a modern city, but it has enough ruins and old buildings to make cities like Chicago or London weep or glare in envy. (“You wanted lasting monuments? Guess you shouldn’t have been made out of wood!”) And that has an impact on a city. I know that it’s a large, modern city. Somehow, though, it doesn’t quite feel like one.

Posted by Soseki 12:52 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

When the Sun's So Slow to Fade

Helsinki

sunny 19 °C

I first noticed the problem on the airplane. I’m used to not being able to understand the second language on a plane. But usually I can pick up some words- cognates with French, Japanese I’ve studied, first grade lessons about Lulu and a friend in the garden...

Finnish is like no language I’ve ever been exposed to. And that bothered me. I don’t like being completely cluueless about a language, but by the time we landed, it was kind of too late to change that.

However awkward I felt, I must not have been doing all the blatantly wrong touristy things, because people kept speaking Finnish to me. The downside of that was that I would need to respond to what they were saying, which was usually some equivalent of “Hi,” by speaking in English and admitting I had no clue what they were saying.

They were nice about it, and spoke very good English. Still, it bothered me. So, by way of compensation, I eavesdropped on other tourists.

There were some Japanese people, probably businessmen, in the hotel lobby when we checked in. They spoke to each other formally, two of them had sisters who were the same age (or one of them had a sister who was the same age as someone...) and they were doing something at 2:30. They repeated that time, so I assume it must have been something important.

Merely eavesdropping on a Japanese conversation wouldn’t have been so bad if on the way out of the airport I hadn’t gotten excited each time I read a Japanese sign. Europe, not Japan. Still, it’s nice to know that my Japanese hasn’t completely atrophied with how little I use it.

I also overheard fragments of three different conversations between Russian tourists. The parts I understood were far less interesting that the Japanese conversation. (Conversation 1: “What? What? What?.... “No.” Conversation 2: “I understand.” Conversation 3: “I think that...”) Still, it was nice to hear a non-English language that I understood, at least a little.

If I’d wanted to hear more conversations between other people who didn’t speak Finnish, I could have taken a more touristy approach. Instead, I went to one of the places that make least sense to go when you don’t know the language- a bookstore. It makes sense though, because bookstores are a great way to learn languages. I mean, where else could you pick up vocabulary words like “Masterbuilder?”

I was looking for bookstores, and Helsinki did not disappoint me. But where Helsinki won
special points was when I stumbled into a store that sells yarn without even trying. That doesn’t usually happen to me. But today, I was exploring Helsinki, so when I saw a sign for a “Supermarket” I decided to go in. I’m pretty sure that was supposed to be two words. When I went down a flight of stairs, I was drawn instantly to the surprisingly big and varied selection of yarns. It was a very pleasant surprise, even if it did lead to one of the aforementioned “Oh. You just spoke in Finnish. I have no idea what you said. Umm... American, please?” exchanges.

To avoid another interaction like that, I stayed away from stores and found a nice park. In the park were several statues, and seagulls had apparently decided the statues needed hats, because every statue I saw had a seagull perched on the top.

While I was listening to a trombone play Finlandia,* I overheard half a conversation between a Finnish woman sitting with her friend and two English-speaking tourists.

Woman: You don’t need to be polite.
Woman: We’re drinking wine. I just got fired.
Woman: We’re not into pictures. We don’t like taking pictures.

And I thought Americans were supposed to be loud and rude and Finns were quiet and reserved...

  • Any time I hear music here, I assume it’s Sibelius. So trombone player in park? Finlandia. Violinist in street? Finlandia. Soft music in hotel lobby? Finlandia. Pop-esque music during lunch? Finlandia.

Posted by Soseki 09:13 Archived in Finland Comments (0)

The Road is Wide and the Sky is Tall

10,974 meters tall

-49 °C

The US Woman’s Football team was on the plane with us. (Quote fellow fellow passenger talking to customs official: “It’s American football, not rest of the world football. That’s why you didn’t hear about it.”) They were flying to Finland to defend their championship. I first noticed them because there was a huge stack of identical bags to go into checked luggage. They also had identical, fairly big carrry-ons. And there were a lot of them. I”m pretty sure they all got on fine, though. If they had to leave someone behind, it must have been someone they didn’t like, because the entire group was pretty quiet. They were actually remarkably quiet for a sports team of that size (approximately 45 people, allegedly.) It was nice.

The plane didn’t have personal televisions built into the back of each seat, which was a bit of a surprise. I’m used to trans-oceanic flights having them. I didn’t notice until the safety announcements came on, and it wasn’t much of an issue. The biggest annoyance was that they keppt replacing the cycle of map/altitude, speed, and temperature/times with movies. From what I could tell, the first movie they showed consisted solely of two people driving and making concerned/grumpy faces. Also: the times were majorly off. When the plane left around 4 in the afternoon, the display said it was 8 in the morning in Chicago.

It was one of the more turbulent flights I’ve been on. Nothing too major, though they did delay beverage service initially, and the seatbelt sign spent a large portion of the time on.

As we were preparing for take-off, I cast on a sweater. The woman sitting next to me on the plane (also from Chicago, going to Hungary to visit her family) asked me what I was making. I said a sweater, and the to justify the fact that I did know how to do more than make loops of yarn on a needle, added “it’s not very far.”

“There’s always a beginning.”

This is the real beginning of the trip.

Posted by Soseki 23:53 Archived in Finland Comments (1)

I Don't Know Because I Don't Know Where to Begin

Still in Illinois in body, in Europe in mind.

sunny 29 °C

My goal for today was to find the concession rotunda where I ate lunch last year. My primary motivation was a sense of nostalgia. Secondary was the memory that I did get an internet signal there.

It’s a small thing. I’m not sitting at the exact table I was sitting at last year, but I’m close enough. And it seemed like a fitting place to start. I’m not in Europe yet, but I’m mentally very close. I’m very aware that it’s early afternoon, and not late evening/night. But I do accept that in another twelve hours it will be 10:00 in the morning. Geographically, I’m still as far from Europe as I am normally, but mentally, I’m very close.

As we walked through the hallway in O’Hare that has all the flags, I remembered previous trips when my siblings and I would walk through that same hallway and try and identify every country from the flag, getting extra excited when we’d see the flag of a country we were going to visit.

I used to love airports and airplanes. Even now ,after they’ve lost the “we’re in an airport! We’re going on an adventure! It will be happiness and fun and sheepcounting all the time!” enthusiasm of a young child, I still like them.

Everything in an airport glimmers with potential. That’s why I love looking at stores in airports, even though I usually don’t buy anything. Because most stores sell objects for day-to-day lives. Airports sell items for adventures. Even if it’s just the adventure of spending 8 hours on a plane, or trying to get to your hotel in pouring rain. Airport stores don’t sell the ordinary, even when it looks like it. They sells parts of your trip.

At a mall, I would just be sitting at a food court and not eating. Here, I’m sitting in a “concession rotunda” and mentally starting my trip. I like airports.

Posted by Soseki 12:12 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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