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Rome, Day 2: Ruins Boogaloo

For our first complete day in the still-grand city that was once capital of an empire, we decided to discover its history by touring the ruins of its ancient city. Having previously seen Pompeii, we considered ourselves prepared - but when we stepped out of the subway station to be confronted with the full glory of the Colosseum, we stopped in our tracks.

The root word of "Colosseum" comes from the Latin meaning "huge" and in fact it was. Many of you have probably been inside a sports stadium, such as those in which your games of foot-ball or whack-with-bat-ball are played. This edifice was every bit as large - and built of stone and brick laid by thousands of slaves, instead of the construction machines that nowadays are so much in vogue. It towered far above us, rivaling the surrounding apartment buildings in scope and dwarfing them in majesty.

While we were gawking a man came up and offered us a tour inside both the Colosseum and the nearby archaeological excavations for a combined price that was little more than the cost of the entrance tickets. The deal, the street vendor pointed out, would also allow us to avoid the 45-minute-long line. (His numbers may have been exaggerated but his reasoning was correct.) Although Bax has a ground rule not to buy things from people that come up and offer items unsolicited, it was hard to see the down side of this transaction, and we talked Bax into it.

There must have been something like 1,000 people inside the grand structure - and yet it still looked empty, and traversing it was free of problems. In fact it was originally designed to seat something like 50 times that, though none of the original seats survive. The guide gave us some fascinating historical tidbits - such as the fact that what remains today is only 38% of the material originally used, and that the builders were largely prisoners of war from Rome's conquest of the Jerusalem area.

Once the guided tour was over, we were told that we should meet "Susan" (wearing a red hat) at 2:15 outside the Colosseum's only exit, and we were given an hour for my companions and I to wander about the grounds. We ascended to the upper of the two levels open to public access and admired the view of Rome - I can only imagine what we would have been able to see from the "nosebleed" section! That would have ben the silver lining to being a female in Rome - since those were the only seats that women were permitted to access.

We ultimately departed the sporting arena and waited for Susan. ... And waited. After 2:30 had come and gone with no sign of a tour guide, both of my companions - and many others from the tour group - left to seek out the tour vendor who had taken our money. Finally Susan arrived at 2:40 - amid the complaints of other tour participants, though at this point we were simply relieved that we had not been taken in by a scam - and we walked over to the excavated Roman Forum area. Once there, further delays ensued as we discovered the reason for her late arrival: she had been assigned to escort two different tour groups through the forum! Susan had been told of the 2:40 group but not the 2:15 group, and accordingly there were not enough entrance tickets. After some arguments in Italian via her cellular phone, she paid out of pocket for the remaining members of our group and we shuffled up one of Rome's seven hills to what used to be the lodgings of the Roman emperors.

Personally, as a priest, I have never paid much attention to the mere divertisements of the common man. But sports were apparently a big deal to the Romans. The emperor's estate contained a large track for races, and one of the balconies overlooked what used to be the chariot racing grounds (a track of several miles length that modern Romans have left as open land).

Food was also important, which I can appreciate having tasted modern Roman cuisine, and there was an immense banquet hall where meals of 15 to 20 courses were served. Overall, we were told, it took about 3,000 slaves to simply keep the place running. I would be curious to see the place restored to its original function, but I am told that nowadays slaves are out of fashion.

The guided tour finished and we walked down the hill into the ancient Roman forum. Bax wanted to go visit the shepherd's huts where the founders of Rome were said to have lived, but was quickly distracted when a small child, flinging around fist-sized rocks from the ground, assailed his bare toes with a mighty impact. He later described this indignity as "having history dropped on your foot."

We walked amid many ancient sights -- admiring the world's oldest working door lock, and testing the acoustics of the restored soaring building that the Roman Senate met in -- and ended up at an altar underneath which Julius Caesar is said to have been buried. It was kept oddly well-stocked with fresh flowers and remembrances. I tell you, the Roman welfare state is simply unfair. Two thousand years since he was killed and he is still getting a free lunch, while I have to work a day job like everyone else.

After that discovery my companions declared themselves to be "ruined out" - Bax mustered an attempt to go back to the Roman founders' huts but gave up after realizing he would have to retrace about a mile's uphill walk - and we started heading back toward the hotel in search of dinner. At Bax's insistence we skipped all the tourist-looking places near the ruins and ultimately ended up at a quite pleasant restaurant near one of the otherwise nondescript Metro stops. By the time we hiked back to our hotel, it was dark, and we quickly dropped to sleep to prepare for the next day's momentous journey. Little did I know then that our upcoming trip was to become one of the most monumental of my life.
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every day, at home, default

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Rome is a delightfully antique city in many ways, including their wireless access. We were out of contact for the last two days, but now are staying in a lovely place with wifi. I just updated my journal and there will be photos posted later today.

Kady and Bax have very kindly posted pictures of our day in Amsterdam. You can see them here.



But first, I have an appointment with the Pope.
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Goodbye Naples, Hello Rome

We left Naples by rail, my favorite mode of travel so far. I was delighted to note that we passed by the back side of Mount Vesuvius and we were treated to a glimpse of the ocean on the way.

The Rome train station is also a very bustling marketplace and my companions had to keep me focused on reaching the exit, as so many new treasures kept pulling my attention elsewhere.

We finally reached the street with our baggage and began to make our way to our next inn. Rome on a Sunday afternoon is delightfully quiet and was the perfect way to get acquainted with a new city. As we strolled to our inn, we were stopped by two other travelers who mistook me in my priestly vestments as a local and asked for directions. Despite being new here ourselves, we were able to send them the right way thanks to Bax's ocular-phone.

We found our inn, but were informed by the innkeeper that they were overbooked and there was no room for us. However, they had made arrangements for us to stay at another inn around the corner. We trooped there and were delighted to discover that we had been given a much nicer private room for the same rate with a view up the street. It was spacious, with air conditioning and a comfortable bed, yet there was much moaning and wailing among my companions as they discovered that the hotel did not provide access to the Internet so that I might make my travelogue posts.

After relaxing and changing clothes, we decided to set out for a fountain that also holds a shrine to Neptune. Bax wanted to tap the internets and was on the lookout for a place with wired air. He thought he found one at a McDonald's but alas, it was not to be as it required some sort of wooden inn (which was nowhere in sight). Instead, we ate some chicken, fried potatoes (not as good as the dish in Naples) and a local specialty of fried Brie cheese wedges. I tried the cheese and enjoyed it; I hope that dish catches on in America.

We took a slightly roundabout route to the temple, so as to see as much of the city as possible. Last summer I had the pleasure of encountering a Neptune shrine in the desert, but this one was much better attended. I suppose that people on the coast know how to honor the god of water.

A tradition that I think we should adopt back home involved flinging coins into the fountain while saying prayers to Neptune. Judging by the popularity and immense size of the shrine, it's working very well.

After paying our respects, we began to make our way back to the inn, while keeping an eye out for dinner along the way. Kady stopped at a fruit stand and bought a bunch of tremendously sized grapes, which we snacked on as we walked. Moving away from the more crowded areas, we located a small establishment serving pizza, wine and other delicacies.

After resting our feet and filling our bellies, we made our way back to the inn, to rest and unravel the mysteries of the local plumbing.
every day, at home, default

Saturday in Naples

Our trip notes are slightly out of order; rest assured I will expound on our discoveries at the ruins the next time we have available an Internet connection.)

After the dust and antiquity of Pompeii, Naples felt more sparkling and modern. The previous long day on our feet meant that we were more inclined to stay close to home the next.

We woke up and were shocked to discover that all of us had somehow managed to sleep a full twelve hours. I had no idea how much traveling could sap one's energy. Having slept through breakfast, we decided to visit the church dedicated to the patron saint of Naples - Saint Generaro. I was looking forward to a theological discussion with the local priests. Part of the excitement of travel is being able to broaden one's views with others.

Suited up and ready to go, we set out through the streets of Napoli. My companions were surprised at the number of closed shops at midday on a Saturday. The local cafes were doing a brisk business and we spent part of our walk spying out the menus for the best place to break our fast.

After walking for fifteen minutes or so, we finally came to our destination. The church was quite impressive - sitting on a narrow street it towered over its neighbors. We spent a pleasant few minutes in the sunshine marveling at the soaring facade. I spied sculptures of several priests looking out of alcoves in the front of the building.

We entered through the museum and were sternly informed that there were no photographs allowed at all. So sadly, there is no visible evidence that I was there and this record will have to suffice.

I had been led to believe that this church was not the grandest in Italy and that there is another that is considered its own city. (There has been discussion of us going there and I hope we make it.) I would have had no idea based on the treasures in this temple. Silver and jewels and gifts from foreign potentates filled the rooms we passed through. The audioguide explained that Naples was renowned for their silversmiths, so as a result the very best work ended up in the temples. Very different from the austerity I'm used to.

After passing through all the display rooms and gasping at every corner - these craftsmen left no inch untouched, even the ceilings were lavishly decorated - we found ourselves outdoors once again. I expressed my disappointment at not being able to converse with any priests, as none had been in evidence and my companions speculated that Saturday was most likely their day off. Our next planned destination quickly erased my disappointment.

We stopped for lunch at a bar on the way back to our inn. Bars in Italy are most useful things: unlike their American counterparts, they are open all day and into the late evening, they all serve hot food and there's usually two or three on each block. We enjoyed a lunch of pizza, meatballs and roasted potatoes while also trying out our Italian on the barkeepers. They were kind enough to applaud our efforts.

After lunch, we stopped into a local clothing store and my companions picked out a few things in an effort to look more local. I must say that Bax succeeded admirably. Kady's hair keeps her from looking too Italian, but she cut a very nice figure in the dress she selected. Sadly, there was nothing in my size, but I did lend opinions and help with color selections.

We dropped off our purchases at our inn, then moved on to the National Archeological Museum - which was a mere block away. A museum employee recognized my august personage and asked to be introduced. I cheerfully shook her hand and she let me in free of charge.

The museum was showing a display of objects from Pompeii and a very interesting exhibit on gladiators. We all looked at the art, then Kady and I took in the gladiator exhibit together. I was able to share all my reminiscences of the gladiator battles I attended in my youth. Seeing the helmets and swords up close was very exciting, as I had never been able to afford close seats as a youngster.

As we left the gladiator exhibit, we spied another gallery of frescoes and stopped to take a look around. Pompeii was certainly beautifully decorated and I'm glad so much of the artwork has been saved for display. That gallery led to another called "The Cabinet of Forbidden Objects". Not being able to resist such a tantalizing label, we all trooped inside to find even more objects cataloging the erotic interests of the citizens of Pompeii. Finding it at turns fascinating and humorous, we marveled at everything that had been saved. The citizens of Pompeii were certainly a lively group.

Following that, we roamed through the marble collection. This was nothing like I expected, but instead an excellent collection of sculptures from ancient times. I very much enjoyed recognizing the likenesses of all the Greek and Roman gods and my companions were kind enough to take my portrait with many of them.

We realized as we were leaving that all three of us were exhausted. Back to the inn for us. We rested and changed clothes, then went to dinner at the lovely cafe across the street where we were becoming regulars.

Thus ended our last full day in the delightful city of Napoli. Tomorrow, onward to Rome!
every day, at home, default

Pompeii

Our first major expedition in Naples was historical in nature: what the locals call "Pompeii Scavi," or the ruins of Pompeii. It has its own stop on the local train system and so for once my companions' transportation fees were quite reasonable. We eagerly sat through the journey, admiring the imposing bulk of nearby Mount Vesuvius, and ate a filling luncheon before entering the site.

It took a while for the sheer size of the city to sink in. We wandered through several city blocks, across the main square, through several buildings, and then realized we were still in just one corner of the map! In my case, the surprise was not at the size of the city but in realizing that the entire thing, from city wall to opposite city wall, had been preserved - and largely unearthed.

I must admit to being impressed at the scale of the archaeological activity. You can walk from one end of the ancient city to the other and there is nothing but the restored buildings buried by the volcano almost 2,000 years ago. It is clearly but a shadow of its former self - there are no upper stories, and only traces remain of the city's statuary and wall paintings - but what is left illustrates clearly how cities have changed and how they have stayed the same since the days of the Roman Empire.

I find it amusing that the state of the art in road building has apparently advanced only little since the days of the Roman Empire. Like many of Europe's modern cities, Pompeii had narrow cobblestone streets with raised sidewalks. Crosswalks (large oval raised stones) dot the streets at corners so that pedestrians may traverse them without stepping down into the mud. Many roads appeared to be one-way as they did not seem wide enough for two chariots side by side. The audioguides' narrations also pointed out several areas where chariots were not permitted. Considering the deep grooves that their wheels wore into the streets, it is pretty clear why. I suppose that was one disadvantage of stone roads; they must have been far more expensive to resurface.

It warmed my heart as a priest to see the prominent place that the temples had in the city life. There were a number of large temples, and in fact one of the more popular (back in the day) was to Isis, who was a transplant from the Egyptian pantheon. We walked around her temple, admiring the surviving reliefs of her and her animals. I would not be surprised if there was a Phoenician temple buried somewhere in a corner of the city; unfortunately it had not yet been unearthed to give me a chance to pay my respects to the gods and goddesses of my native soil. Instead, I paused to worship at many of the small shrines to local deities, knowing that their believers offered the same obeisance when they took their undoubtedly numerous trips to Phoenicia.

The baths were also quite central in ancient Pompeiian life. My companions tell me that the closest modern equivalent to the ancient baths would be something like a gymnasium or "fitness club"; however, in modern times these do not really serve the social function that they used to. Since only the very richest could afford private bathing facilities, many deals were made and friendships forged amid the comfortable waters and saunas. I admit to a little envy because the Roman mastery of aqueducts was quite advanced compared to ours. But then again we had the good sense not to build our cities quite so close to volcanoes.

But one sooner or later gets tired of the city, and so we left its walls to visit what is now called the Villa of the Mysteries. It was a large estate in the direction of the mountain and one of its dining rooms had quite vivid frescoes depicting a Dionysian initiation rite. My companions looked to me for interpretation but I am afraid I am not fully conversant with that particular sect's methods.

On the way back into the city, we paused outside the walls to sit on the tomb of a scholar. His burial place was a semicircular space ringed with a stone bench. We all agreed it was a fitting memorial as that would allow future men of learning to sit and talk in comfort.

After walking through several of the city's larger estates (some a full block in size) and admiring the restored works of wall and floor art, my companions walked to what is now called the "red light" district with me. Perhaps they thought to scandalize me with the lewd displays. If so, they were foolish, as I have long been familiar with the nature of sexual acts - sacred prostitution and holy revelry were quite popular in my day. The explicit scenes diagrammed on the wall of the House of the Wolves brought back memories of my misspent youth, and clearly they still arouse prurient interest today, as the Wolf House was the only attraction in Pompeii where tourists had formed a queue for viewing the material.

After that visit it began to rain quite dramatically, sending my companions and other tourists all dashing for cover. After waiting out the worst of the storm in the shadow of a high wall (and Bax, dressed in his light, quick-drying hiking clothes, scouting for an area under a ceiling or canopy), we finally crouched under a lengthy archway back in the main square of town. The rain turned out to be a stroke of great fortune, because not only did it cool the day down considerably, but it also sent the majority of our fellow tourists scurrying home so that we had to deal with far fewer crowds.

This gave us the chance to see at a more leisurely pace some of the south side of the city. Kady visited an abandoned temple to her patron goddess - fortunately the altars had been preserved - and then we all hiked down to one of the theaters. I was convinced to stand in the place occupied by the actors and provide an impromptu display of my talents, and I cut an imposing figure. My companions realized there was little that could top that spectacle and wisely decided to depart for the day.

On the way home they consulted with some vendors and purchased a marble statue of Aphrodite Callipygios, who is certainly a lovely lady but a little too large and unsubtle for my tastes. Italy does seem to be full of attractive ancient women, though, and perhaps before we leave I shall find a companion who shares my intellectual interests.
every day, at home, default

Back on the road: Amsterdam and early Italy

Hello again, friends! I have once departed from my workplace, and so it is time to update this journal again.

I was given an opportunity to take a vacation in Italy with my previous traveling companions, and I jumped at the chance. I had visited what is now called "Europe" briefly back in my days as a priest in Phoenicia, but had never gotten the chance to return.

We left very early from our home in Grass Valley and traveled first to San Francisco. I had initially though that like last time we would be traveling overland by motorized carriage, then by boat to Rome, but it turns out that we were going to fly - how exciting! (And much faster! To my surprise, the trip did not even take a fortnight.)

The plane was quite large - two stories, in fact, and seeing all the different people who would be joining us on this adventure in the sky was very exhilarating indeed. The flight waitresses were lovely and made sure we were comfortable the entire trip, bringing us wine, food, blankets, pillows and anything else we might need. Even though it was a Dutch airline they were very accommodating in English.

There was less to see from the air than I expected, because my companions kept their window largely closed in an attempt to catch up on much-needed sleep. However, we were excited to discover that the plane traveled almost directly over our journey's starting point! We were on the correct side to gaze out at the city containing our residences and I made the observation that I could see our house from here. Truly I am the soul of wit.

After dinner and a glass of wine, my companions finally tuned out the bawling of the four young children in adjacent seats (Bax was heard to remark "I am Sisyphus, and this is my punishment") and I spent the remainder of the flight in a period of mediation.

We finally landed amid temperate, cloudy weather and I was informed that we were not yet at our destination, the Italian capital of Rome -- we were in a northern Europe city named Hamster's Dam or some such. Our journey had been planned to allow a side trip to this place - with 10 hours between our morning flight in and our evening flight out.

Once we took a train to the main section of the city, we walked around Hamster's Dam. It was very navigable by foot and bicycle, but the motorized carriages had quite a time in the tiny and twisting streets! There were a number of dams (in fact the city was criss-crossed by multiple canals) but I never once saw a hamster, so I confess I am confused as to the origin of its name.

Our first stop was at the building that once served as the home to a young girl named Anne Frank. Apparently her family hid from foreign invaders during a large war 65 years ago - I can sympathize, we often had to flee from barbarian attacks during my time ministering to cities at the edges of our empire - but was captured and died. Apparently she wrote a journal of her tragic experiences. I got a look at the notebook containing some of her original writing and found it quite compelling. I hope it is published some day.

We also walked through the District of Red Lights, the area of the city where prostitution is legal, and waved to the many ladies of the evening. I am told it is called "the world's oldest profession," but as an authority on old things I must protest; both farming and religion are far more essential to civilization.

The remainder of our stay was unfortunately disrupted by my companions suffering from bouts of vomiting due to what appeared to be some spoiled food. It grew so dire in Bax's case that he ultimately limped into the airport hospital clinic to lie down for some recuperation. By the time he was able to stand again we only had 20 minutes to board our outbound flight. After some tense running through the airport (and another round of dry-heaving aboard the plane) we made it with only moments to spare. It's fortunate that we were not delayed more because that would have cost us all of our remaining air travel tickets!

After that close call we wanted nothing more than to get to our hotel room and sleep - my companions had reserved a room in advance at a hotel near the airport. The quickest method of transport was a taxi and we took the first available. Unfortunately, perhaps due to the language barrier, my companions insist that we were overcharged; there was some driving in circles and a "luggage fee" that brought the total to 30 "euros" (the local currency -- apparently dinarii have not survived the centuries). The hotel room was hot and stuffy but we were all so exhausted from our ordeals that we managed to sleep anyway.

The next day - our first full day in Italy - was taken up with travel and recuperation. We headed south to Napoli (which my fellow American residents know as Naples) via the train line and another local train called the "metro". Once again we were stung by the foul beast of overcharging: when the automatic machine ate our 2-euro coin we were forced to buy tickets from a vendor, who gave us incorrect change for a 10-euro bill and shorted us 5€. Our 1.10€ tickets ended up costing us over 9€! I could tell this upset Bax greatly, especially after the taxi incident. But fortunately we found the hostel that shall be our lodgings for the next 3 nights without further trouble.

It has been a long time since I have seen my fellow travellers so grateful to find accommodations - and after the drama of the preceding days I find it hard to blame them. The remainder of our day was spent catching up on sleep (again the rooms are rather hot and humid, but we are beginning to adjust), punctuated by a brief dinner stop. I must say that I was impressed by the restaurant at which we ate! The local specialties seem to be thin-crusted pizza and seafood; both were ordered and enjoyed greatly. And for the first time in our trip, everyone feels that we got a bargain, considering the quality of the cuisine. Between that and the extremely reasonable rates of the hostel, we may yet remain within our budget for our Napoli stay.

Now we shall go to sleep and prepare for our trip to Pompeii - an excavated city that was buried by ash almost 2,000 years ago. I expect to be instrumental in showing my companions around during this journey. They shall be glad they took the effort to bring me.

As a post-script: My companions have taken many photos of our first stop, but none so far of Italy, due to their exhaustion; it also may be another day or two before the Hamster's Dam photos are processed so I may share them with you.
every day, at home, default

Day 9: Disaster strikes

We woke in Alliance, NE feeling much refreshed and ready to tackle our day. Kady took a few minutes to shuffle her tarot deck and draw a card for the day: Five of swords. I am not much of a prognosticator but from what I could gather, this is a card of which to be wary. With that in mind, we delayed our departure to wash clothes and borrow the hotel's internet.

Our first destination for the day was Carhenge. A location unique to America, Carhenge is a replica of the great Stonehenge, only built completely out of vintage motorized carriages. We stopped for a late breakfast of a local delicacy called "barbeque", which we ate under a shade tree while taking in the impressive visage of Carhenge. My travels as a priest never took me as far north as England, but I feel I got a good sense of the original after visiting this high plains version.

While Bax was finishing up his ribs, Kady and I decided to explore the area a bit. There were several paths mowed into the grass around the Henge, so we picked one and started walking. We first passed through the circle and marveled at the construction involved. Then we walked through the other side to an area featuring three sculptures made of the bones of old carriages. One was in the shape of a dinosaur and another was built to portray a leaping fish. Kady took my picture with the fish and I was quite pleased that I recognized the dinosaur replica from my trip to the museum earlier in the week.

As we gazed across the open plain, something caught our ears. On a rise overlooking Carhenge were several more sculptures - one designed to chime in the winds. Intrigued, Kady and I headed up the hill for a closer look.

Entranced by the chimes, Kady decided to get a video of me enjoying the view and the sound. As I posed showing off my best side - disaster struck! A gust of wind blew me to the ground. Kady dove, but too late and I landed in the grass, sustaining a wound to my shoulder. Kady made sure I was safe, then began to search the base of the wind sculpture for any chips. Bax came along and together they managed to locate most of them.

After assuring them that I was shaken but all right, we proceeded to explore Carhenge a bit more, then visited the gift shop. Kady and Bax purchased a t-shirt and they pressed a penny with an image of Carhenge for me. I appreciated their thoughtfulness, but was happy to return to the relative safety of the car.

We continued our drive north - only now we had bigger monuments in mind: Rushmore Mountain was to be our next stop of the day. We all assured each other that the Five of Swords had done its work and surely nothing more would happen today.

The drive northwards was quite lovely as we were passing through an area known as the Black Hills. They didn't look especially black to me, but nonetheless made for scenic viewing. Upon reaching the gates of the park where Rushmore Mountain is kept, we were greeted by a park employee who gave us a map with several drives highlighted on it and took a fee equal to the Mormon ransom. After a bit of discussion, we decided to travel a route known as "The Needles" and I'm glad we did.

The feature of The Needles are large spires of rock jutting up into the sky at great heights. One is known as the "Eye of the Needle," so named because a hole has been worn through the rock. We drove up a winding mountain road, encountering impressive views at every turn and passing through several short tunnels only wide enough for one carriage at a time. I was too busy trying to see everything to notice my usual tunnel anxiety.

Finally we came through one tunnel that opened up to a much wider road with room to park. We were at the very base of the Eye of the Needle and I happily posed for a photo, despite my wounded shoulder. Kady and I stayed near the carriage taking in the view while Bax scrambled about on some nearby boulders taking photos of us from great heights. We finally resumed our trip, congratulating each other on choosing such a scenic route.

Our next stop was Rushmore Mountain proper. From what I could gather it is a large stone monument carved into a mountainside featuring the visages of this country's early gods or cult leaders - I'm not sure which. As we wound up the hill, we began to encounter more carriages of greater size and quantity. Some were the size of small homes; this was my first exposure to such conveyances and I was curious about the sort of nomads who would travel in such things. Nomadic tribes I have encountered in the past all tended to travel quite light.

The approach to Rushmore Mountain is fitting for a site of this nature. One must first climb several flights of steps, then walk down a long open passageway lined with vendors, rest areas and guides. The passage opens up onto a space known as The Grand Viewing Platform. From here, one can gaze upon the faces of the gods, look down into an open amphitheater or begin walking a trail that leads one to the base of the monument.

We took a few minutes to take pictures of each other with the monument. I'm considering submitting mine to the design priest, in case he would like to add another face to the side of the mountain. After having a passerby take a group photo, we set off on the trail loop to get a closer look at the sculptures.

As we rounded the end of the end of the loop, a spur took us into the studio of the priest who conceived and executed the sculpture. It was quite impressive and I enjoyed learning about the techniques used to carve something that size. As we left the studio and began to climb the considerable stairs back up the viewing platform. Somehow the suggestion was made that Bax should carry Kady and myself up the steps. I protested, but Bax insisted that he could do it. Kady and I climbed upon his back and he proceeded to climb the many stairs back up to the top.

We finally reached the top and a slightly winded - but proud - Bax insisted we take a photo to commemorate his feat. Kady and I hopped up onto a bench for better viewing when the Five of Swords struck again!

Kady lost her footing and slipped from the bench. In so doing she scraped her hand rather badly, bent the lens of the camera and cracked my base - all in one fall. Two injuries in one day! I assured everyone that I would be quite fine with the application of a little glue, but the camera was not to be fixed so easily. Kady felt quite bad about the whole thing, but Bax and I both assured her that we didn't hold her responsible and it could not have been helped.

We decided to salvage our visit with ice cream and souvenir shopping. Kady and I purchased post cards at the gift shop while Bax returned to the carriage for a second look at the camera. When we caught up to him, he informed us that the camera might be repairable, but not with the tools he had on hand. With this in mind, we left to visit a second monument: Crazy Horse Mountain.

I was rather apprehensive about going anywhere considering the day's mishaps; but when we pulled into the parking lot the monument itself was so impressive I had to learn more. We began our tour at the visitor's center by watching a short film about the original artist and how he came to take on such a project. Afterwards, we wandered about the museum taking in the wide variety of items donated by the native tribes.

We watched a few minutes of native dancing, purchased a rock that had been blasted off the mountain by the carvers and used the viewers to observe the mountain from a distance. All in all, it was a very satisfying excursion and we all left planning to return again one day. Perhaps next time I will make it a solo pilgrimage and hopefully avoid further injury.

Our plan for the night was to camp out in the area. Bax had specifically packed a tent and sleeping items for just this occasion, but darkness was falling, so we needed to find a location quickly. Our first two stops were full, but the third site had room for us. We settled in, with Kady setting up the tent in record time. We tossed sleeping bags, pillows and a warm blanket Bax had bought at Crazy Horse inside, then Bax drove back into town for dinner and other sundries. While he was gone, Kady and I relaxed and took a few moments to meditate and shake off our Five of Swords day.

Bax returned with pizza, sandwiches and another flashlight. After a hot meal and little "downtime", we all fell asleep to rest up for our next day's adventure: The journey to the Park of the Yellow Stones.
every day, at home, default

Day 8, Part 2

Once past the Center of the United States, we entered the state of Nebraska, and found ourselves simply trying to cover as much distance as possible before requiring sleep. Bax set our sights on a city named Alliance, and we cruised along the interstate highways.

As we drove, we discovered that Nebraska had a surprise in store for us. The day's earlier storm had seemed to recede as we left Kady's college town, but the skies progressively darkened as we drove west. Soon we were seeing flashes of lightning in the twilight from ominous clouds to the north. Kady got a bit nervous and quizzed Bax on tornado safety. (Stay in the car, drive into a ditch, stay low.)

After the sun set, we were treated to a brilliant display of distant lightning. Then we reached our turnoff from the 80th Interstate to the 26th Interstate, and things really got interesting.

Rain began to pour -- pelting the car with a steady barrage of tremendous droplets. As we drove into the tiny town of Ogalalla, our motorized carriage plowed through several puddles of deep standing water. Bax turned the "windshield wipers" on to full power, but their wiping could not keep up with the rain and poor visibility forced us to slow to a virtual crawl. We were surely headed into the heart of the storm.

As Ogalalla seemed to contain no places of lodging, the decision was made to press on regardless. We had previously checked for hotels in Alliance and confirmed that there was lodging to be had there. The rain might slow us down, but it was better to keep making slow progress than to attempt to wait the storm out.

The rain continued, a torrent quite reminiscent of the mythical flood described in the holy book of one of my competitors' religions, and soon we realized that the lightning was striking in every direction around us. The night became a series of lengthy struggles to see through the rain, punctuated by brief flashes of near-daylight that illumined the entire countryside. The road we were driving along was otherwise deserted. Bax commented that he had never before realized that the impassable-weather-in-desolate-areas scenario popularized by movies like "Psycho" truly occurred.

Fortunately, as we continued driving, the rain subsided, and soon we had escaped the storm's grasp. With lightning receding in the distance and an exceptional number of trains on the track alongside the road (perhaps they had all been waiting out the storm?), we sped toward Alliance. There were no other cars on the road, and Bax was merciless with the accelerator, hoping to reach a hotel as quickly as possible.

After roaring by nearly a dozen trains and turning north onto the 385th Interstate, our last leg of the journey, Bax began to notice that there was in fact another vehicle taking our same route; and furthermore, that it was, though distant, actually catching up to us! Out of a sense of not entirely misplaced paranoia, he slowed down to the speed limit as it began coming within our visual range, and resolved to let it pass. But that was not to happen. In a somewhat predictable turn of events, the vehicle turned on law enforcement lights as it approached, and pulled our motorized carriage over.

Again I must protest that it was my presence that saved our group from legal penalty. The church has always had good relations with the legal system, even in these dark times when justice is dispensed in completely nonsectarian circumstances. The officer merely stated that we were "going a bit fast back there", in deference to my judgment, and gave Bax a written warning indicating that he would have been fined quite stiffly had he not been chauffeuring such an august personage as myself. I am certain that Bax will claim it was his decision to slow to the speed limit before the officer's approach that made the difference, but you may pay him no mind.

After that, we drove (at the speed limit) the last few miles into Alliance, chose a hotel, and promptly collapsed into sleep. Little did any of us know the sort of day that lay ahead of us.
every day, at home, default

Day 8, Part 1

I received slight injuries that required a bit of healing. I'm feeling much better now and am looking forward to resuming my travel reports. Thanks to everyone who expressed concern.

The eighth day of our trip saw us in Manhattan, KS - where Kady had completed her higher education. She was eager to show us around her university; so we had brunch at a building called The Union, where we were able to indulge in Chinese food, pizza AND chicken nuggets. Truly, the educational experience has changed since my days in school.

Following the tasty lunch, we crossed the street to the building that housed the school's newspaper offices. From what I could gather from Kady, she seemed to have been held in this building for several years of her life. The feature of the main office was a block of some sort of foodstuff referred to only as "Jello" that was stuck to the ceiling. Everyone expressed great surprise at it's durability. Perhaps the locals will begin use it as construction material. Bax took several photos of myself investigating this strange stuff.

Kady bid the newsroom farewell and led us on a walking tour of campus that culminated at the university's ice cream shop. Bax and Kady each chose a flavor and I sampled bites of theirs. The ice cream was quite delicious and obviously came from very happy cows. At this point, a light rain had begun to fall and we quickly made our way to the car.

Before we left town, Bax wanted to visit the local comic and game shop. They had been closed earlier in the day, but were open now. He was happy to discover many old favorite games for purchase and quickly selected something called "Robo Rally", along with several other books and manuals. Kady browsed comics and I enjoyed light conversation with some of the locals.

We finally got back on the road, our next destination: Lebanon, Kansas. Also known as the Center of the Continental United States. As the US is much bigger than I had originally thought, I was very excited to know that I had been to the very middle. As we drove along, Kady announced a brief stop would be upcoming. Apparently our route would be taking us directly past the World's Largest Ball of Twine. How could we not stop?

The Ball is in fact everything one would think it would be. It's very tall and sits outdoors under an open-sided structure that allows everyone to enjoy its impressive girth. Our party visited the gift shop across the street and purchased a few small souvenirs, then posed for photos with the Ball. While the Twine was not the goal of our trip, I'm quite happy we stopped and would have been sad to miss it.

Following the Ball of Twine, the Center of the US was bit anti-climatic. To reach the marker, one must drive through town and down a small road to a park. There, in the middle of wheat fields and cows, sits the monument signifying the center of the United States. It was very peaceful there and we took a moment to "shoot" a video marking the occasion.

Following these two cultural high water marks, we turned our attention toward Nebraska to the north and onward to our next destination: Mount Rushmore.
every day, at home, default

ouch

dear friends , i fear that i may be temporarilyti aunable to update my jurnal. please forgive my slooppy script on these keys but i suffered a minor fall at the momument known as carhenge. my shuolde r has suffered a bit but my companions haev taken me to see a proffesional and assure me i can regain my full stature with some care and craft glue.

aparently it wasa poor day for my companions a swell [kady's card was the five of swords and it rpoduced as claimed]. i am told the camera took its own fall mere hours later and the professional has declared it dead. so my situation cuold be worse.

my companions promise to update this jounral on my behalf while i am indisposed, but as they were camping in the black hills of s. dakota last night and will be spending this evening at the yellow stones of wyoming, i fear yuo may nothear much from me for anotehr evening or so.

please be patient and we shall contnuie updaring.
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