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Sights & Sites

Thursday, June 26, 2014

By MICHAEL CLEVELAND

Correspondent

From the window in the bathroom I could see the Mediterranean, the first time I’d seen it in 48 years.

We were on our final night in Italy, staying in Ostia, at the Best Western Riviera, which turned out to be a nice hotel with a little bar that wasn’t manned, but was within sight of the desk clerk who would hop over and serve you. Not many choices, but the red wine was OK.

Not OK in Ostia was the seeming absence, totally, of grocery stores. See, my wife always likes to have some yogurt in the room refrigerator, just in case, so I went out into the rain in search of some.

Three hours later, I came back with nada and never even found a grocery. I found two fruit stores and a fish monger with lots of whole fish we could have filleted in the room because I always bring a Swiss Army knife on trips, but we didn’t do that.

Then Kathy, clearly not trusting me, went out in search of yogurt and came back with some bread from a bakery down the street.

Forget about it.

At least she didn’t get lost. I did, which might explain why I was gone for three hours.

Ostia was near Ostia Antica which is, of course, Ancient Ostia, and with directions from the desk clerk, we hopped a bus, then a train, and found it and then walked around the ruins for a couple of hours. It was interesting if you have the imagination to see it as it once was, or might have been, but if you don’t, well, it’s a lot of rocks. Old rocks, to be sure, but rocks.

But old rocks can be important contemporarily because, one can hope, they’ll encourage us to learn more about them and the time they were turned into buildings and, of course, about the people who did the turning. Who were these Romans that they could build such things as the Colosseum, for instance? And the cathedrals? How can they possibly be still standing?

To me, that is what makes history interesting: not so much the “what” of it, but the “why” and the “how.”

So Ostia Antica was inspiring in that way: I want to know how.

On the contemporary side, taking the bus and the train was interesting in itself. Here in New Hampshire, public transportation isn’t something we take for granted, if we take it at all, which most of us don’t, because there isn’t much of it. Sure, you can get to Boston by bus and you can take the Downeaster to Maine but you can’t go, say, from Milford to Manchester.

Well, in Italy, you can do the equivalent and things like buses connect with things like trains, and vice versa. And they’re fun, even when they’re crowded, as the bus back to our hotel was because it was packed with teenagers fresh out of school and heading home. Or somewhere. And riders had to fight their way off the bus, a little, but the word “permisso” worked wonders at getting people to sidle over a little, even teenagers who, in our nation, are often loathe to sidle.

Unlike our trip into Rome, we opted for a car from the hotel to the airport, although it wasn’t nearly as interesting as the train and the tram. Just us and a couple of other Americans who worked for an airline, I forget which, who chattered on about their business incessantly.

Now, the question one must always answer at the end of any travelogue: Would I return?

Yes.

And it would be different because I won’t feel the need to do the things we did on this trip, i.e., see so many sites. Clearly, I will never return to the overcommercialized Vatican. No, next time – and I hope there will be one – I will spend much more time sitting in cafes sipping coffee and chatting up many more locals. And eating the breakfast at the Hotel Santa Maria or lounging on its upper patio.

That’s really where the fun comes in.

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