Manja’s amore, Marco, suggested that a good stop for us on day one would be the archaeological park at Ostia Antica. It’s the port city of Ostia, which is now antique. He knew Pedro and I would be tired after our trip, but also arriving early in the day. We wanted to stay awake during daylight hours to force our bodies to accept a new time zone (9 hours ahead of Oregon) as soon as possible. Walking through an archaeological park would be a way to keep us moving around and awake, when our bodies wanted to sleep.
I knew about this plan before we left, so I found documentaries on YouTube and watched them to learn about the site. There is evidence of Roman occupation there from the 7th century BCE. Located at the mouth of the Tiber River as it emptied into the Tyrrhenian Sea, this was the main port city for Rome as the city grew in power and prominence. Rome is famous for colonizing, and Ostia may have been its first occupation/colony. The city became a commercial powerhouse, with all the infrastructure necessary to unload, store, purchase, and distribute the goods coming from the Mediterranean and destined for Rome. There is evidence showing that the headquarters of multiple corporations were in Ostia. The peak population was around 100,000 people in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.
Rome kept growing and trade needs outgrew the port city. A bigger and better port was built nearby, likely with expectations that both would be used. Instead, it took relatively little time for corporations, ship owners and financiers to abandon Ostia for the new port. Ostia’s port status dissolved and for a few centuries it remained a vacation home on the sea for wealthy Romans. By the 9th century, it was entirely abandoned and Mother Nature filled it with sand. The sea receded and today is 2 miles (3 km) away.
This is an ideal arrangement for archaeology because today the modern city of Ostia is at the coast, and not directly on top of the old city. By contrast, it’s hard to excavate Rome to know how the city was arranged and lived in 2000 years ago, because there is currently a modern city in the way. So here is a city built up at the same time Rome was built up, and preserved well due to being buried. It’s an excellent opportunity to study what things must have been like in Rome. Official excavations were begun by Benito Mussolini, and it is estimated that 2/3 of the city have yet to be excavated.
At the entrance to the park, we were asked for the first time to show our “green pass.” In the EU, a green pass is a digital document that tracks the status of the carrier; whether they have been vaccinated, received a negative COVID test, or have recovered from COVID. In Italy, this pass is required for entrance into most public places. We knew this ahead of time, and had taken photos of our COVID-19 vaccination cards. We pulled out our phones and showed the images to the attendant and she was satisfied. This turned out to be the case at every single stop for the entire trip: a cellphone photo of our big white CDC vaccination card was happily accepted as our green pass. A woman took our temperatures and Manja’s was too high so she was asked to stand in the shade for a while. This tells you how hot the day was.
When we arrived at the park, I had changed from my sneakers and long-sleeved shirt into sandals and a tank top. It was around 90 (32 C) and I was dying. It turns out the weather was actually cooler than it had been two weeks earlier, and we were grateful that the Portland to Coast race had forced us to come later. Manja called another blogger friend, Flavia, to join us, since she lives in Ostia. The three of us chatted and got to know each other. I have not read Flavia’s blog, but I had seen her name often in Manja’s blog. Flavia speaks five languages, and was soon chatting away with Pedro in Spanish, allowing Manja and I to have our own conversation.
Manja and I talked a lot as we strolled the streets of ancient Ostia. Though blogs are wonderful, getting to know someone in person is better. Finally, finally we two friends for years had the opportunity to hug and hear each other’s voices and laugh together and experience something together. Near the end of the day I asked her if I was like what she expected and she said she had been asked that by other bloggers before and of course we were always what she expected. She and I (and many of you) choose the blogs that we follow carefully, and we only follow those people who are open, personal, and honest. Those who are not blogging to make money, but blogging to join the community. For that reason, she said, she expects that every blogger she meets in person will be just as she thought they would be.
The documentary I had seen told me the basic story of Ostia, but I did not know what individual structures were unless an information board was provided. We strolled and admired everything that caught our attention, without knowing any particulars. Flavia was familiar with the site and knew more than the rest of us, and she shared what she remembered. It was a huge site and we spent a couple hours there and saw only about half of it.
Today’s entrance is through what used to be a necropolis, and we were able to see old sarcophagi on display. We walked along a road paved with stones that still show years of use, smoothed along the surface. The site is lovely with many trees that provided areas of shade for which we were grateful. There was also a spigot that allowed us to refill water bottles. We were met by a man who heard us speaking in English and jumped up to greet us in English and offered to guide us for a good price. We politely declined.
We spotted ahead of us a couple of tourists who had climbed to the top of some kind of structure. It had been hard to get a sense of the place from the ground, and when Manja and Flavia reached it first, they climbed up and took a good look. When Pedro and I finally arrived too, we eagerly followed them up the steps to the platform to look around. Flavia pointed to the huge mosaics below us and began explaining that, while well-preserved, they were not the best preserved mosaics in Italy. They were, however, the largest. I snapped one photo and then heard the fierce shrieking of whistles from below. We calmly looked around to see the trouble, and it was two carabinieri (Italian police), gesturing to us to get down. The others went toward the steps, but I had just arrived! I turned back with my camera, wanting to just get a few photos with that great view, but the whistles shrieked even more fiercely and they hollered at us. So I reluctantly scurried down the steps with the others. I have no helpful overlook shots for you. Sorry.
The carabinieri raised their voices at Manja and Flavia (the two who understood their Italian), accusing us of removing the barrier and climbing past warning signs – but our friends stood their ground and insisted we had done no such thing, and had followed the lead of other tourists. It was true. After some hearty raised voices back and forth, they let us go. One of them was frustrated to give up the accusations and added an additional scolding to Manja that her dog’s leash was too long. That made us all laugh. (But we laughed later, when out of earshot.)
We came to a well-preserved round outer wall of the old theatre. We walked down a hallway and into the theatre itself. This theater is still in use today for special events, and the seats and sound equipment from a recent/future show were set up. When it was originally built, the seats faced a large public square that included a temple and gardens. Large mosaics, often of commercial activities, are still intact in that square. Flavia stayed later after we left, and took photos of those mosaics, which she sent to us.
The sun was dropping and we were tiring. We said goodbye to Flavia who wanted to continue looking at things, and we headed for the exit. Manja drove us an hour and a half to her home with her amore. We continued jabbering in the front seat while Pedro immediately fell asleep in the back seat and bestia used him as a climbing structure to try to get closer to Manja in the front seat, protected by a metal screen.
In Capalbio Scalo we pulled into the driveway of the condominium and Manja remarked at how empty it now is compared to two weeks prior when it was packed full of summer vacationers. She said the town empties out every winter and she likes it that way. We went in and finally met our other host. Manja is Slovenian and Marco is Italian, from Rome. He is a cook and knows how to make a proper ragù, which was prepared the previous day. He put his ragù with pasta and cheese into the oven for us and soon we were having a scrumptious meal. Soul food. We thought we were done until he brought out a tiramisu for dessert. I had tasted what is called “tiramisu” in the U.S., with sponge cake, pudding, and whipped cream – blech. I asked how this one was made, and was told there was bread, cheese, coffee, cocoa and some kind of alcohol. I told them honestly that it sounded awful but I was ready to take a bite and embrace this Italian traditional treat. Well. It was amazingly delicious and I have changed my mind about tiramisu, although with the caveat that I’ll still never eat it in the U.S.A. After talking too long and drinking too much, we finally went to bed. We calculated that we had been travelling and mostly awake for 31 hours. We had a lovely room to ourselves with special touches that included chocolate. By that time, our circadian clock told us it was daytime and that we no longer needed sleep. Despite that, we caught a few hours.