Tag Archives: Hill

A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum

Our 2nd day in Roma (Rome) didn’t go as planned.  It was sunny and hot, very warm to be touring the monuments.  From our campground outside the city we caught the bus, then train, then metro to the famous Colesseum, a 2000 year old amphitheatre, the largest in the Roman Empire, originally capable of seating 50,000 people.  We did the audio tour, listening to tales of senators and citizens, gladiators and slaves, of Christians and lions, and of the glory days and the decline of Rome.

In front of the Colesseum

The Colesseum looks identical today to the way it did in the movie Roman Holiday (starring Gregory Peck and introducing Audrey Hepburn) which was released 59 years ago.  I’m showing my ‘new world’ short-sightedness here though, because it has looked pretty much like that for the last 1000 years.

Afterwards we crossed the street to wander up and around Palantine Hill, the centermost of the 7 Hills of Rome, and the supposed location of the Lupercal cave where the orphans Romulus (from whom Rome gets its name) and Remus where kept alive by a she-wolf. Palantine Hill was the earliest inhabited location in Rome and became the place where Rome’s wealthiest citizens lived, including the infamous emperor Caligula.  It was getting very warm and was approaching lunch time.  We had planned to grab some food and then visit the Roman Forum located on the other side of the hill.

I was having some weird heart palpitations and periodic shortness of breath, something that started a couple of days earlier and which I ignored until they became frequent enough that they couldn’t be overlooked.  I mentioned this to Diane, who insisted that I do something about it.  I suggested that we finish visiting Palantine Hill, but it soon became apparent that Diane wasn’t enjoying herself because of her worry for me.  We went to the nearby tourist office and inquired about a hospital.  They asked what my issue was, so I pointed to my chest and breathed heavily.  They suggested the Ospedale San Giovanni (Hospital Saint John) and told us what bus to catch to get there.  After wandering about to buy tickets and find the correct stop, we finally boarded a mini-bus and in a few minutes disembarked in front of the Papal Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral of the diocese of Rome, and the highest ranking church in Catholicism, above even St. Peter’s Basilica in nearby Vatican City.

Notice the heavenly light?

We found the hospital around the corner and walked through the security gate and into the reception area.  I spoke to the woman behind the glass who directed us through some sliding doors.  We entered a large waiting room where other people were waiting for their turn to see a doctor.  There was a tough woman controlling the room, calling patients in to see the triage nurse one by one.  She spoke only in Italian and waved her arms at us until a man sitting nearby stepped in to translate.  He said that Diane had to wait outside because she wasn’t a patient.

After about 15 minutes I got called (well, pointed at) and was led into another room where a much nicer woman sat behind a desk with a computer.  She spoke decent English and asked me questions like, “When did it start?”, “Do you have any pain?”, and “Any nausea?” (3 days ago, no, and no).  She checked my blood pressure, blood oxygen level, and pulse.  Afterwards I was assigned a priority, in my case ‘green’, which means that I wasn’t urgent.  I figured that was a good thing, although it probably meant that I was now facing a long wait.

I returned to the waiting room and struck up a conversation with the nice guy who’d translated for me.  He reassured me that this was a good hospital (perhaps they aren’t all good in Italy?)  He was an academic doing research in robotics.  When I told him about my degree, he thought he’d found a fertile audience, and launched into a lengthy explanation of the complex mathematics of robotic vision and sensing.  It was mostly beyond me, but at least it kept my attention focused on something other than my chest.  When I changed the conversation, he recommended a small restaurant slightly off the tourist map.  He wrote its name down in pencil, which mathematicians are fond of, in the margins of my map.  After the first 2 hours of waiting, he got called away, leaving me in the room with others who appeared to be much sicker than me.

When I got my turn, I was led down a hallway to a small examination room with a white-coated young woman (presumably the doctor) and another woman wearing scrubs (apparently a nurse).   The doctor asked me some questions, and spent most of her time typing on a computer.  She directed me to the bed where they checked my pulse, blood oxygen, and did an EKG.  Everything looked normal, so she listened to my breathing, ordered a chest x-ray, took some arterial blood (which is more painful, like having an IV inserted) and sent me back to the waiting room.

Eventually an orderly arrived to walk me down to the x-ray department where I sat for just a few minutes.  It more closely resembled a bomb shelter than a hospital, with metal walls housing compartments with heavy, sliding, metal doors.  Like a darkroom, each had a red light above to indicate when entry was restricted.  I was led into one of these meat lockers by a technician who spoke no English.  He activated something that sounded like a turbine, with a loud noise that grew in pitch and volume like a death ray from a science fiction movie, adding an intimidating sonic element to the experience.  I had 2 good old-fashioned film x-rays (nothing digital here) while standing in front of a giant bulls-eye target.  It felt more like facing a firing squad than a medical procedure.  Just before each image was taken, all the lights in the room went dark, as if the building’s power was being redirected to the beam focused on my chest.  Another orderly arrived to return me to the waiting room.  He didn’t speak English either but pointed to my last name but said something about his ‘bambinos’ and the ‘lee-on king’ (presumably praise for the Disney franchise).

Being a patient in an Italian emergency ward is lonely and boring, more so than at home.  I went out a couple of times to update Diane who was waiting and worrying outside the entire afternoon (except when she went get lunch), but the staff made it clear in broken English and sign language that I couldn’t keep coming and going.  Diane was a bit freaked when I came out looking like this, but I reassured her it was only from the blood tests.

Bent but not broken!

I did talk to a doctor in the hall from Uganda who spoke good English.  We talked about Africa and the young doctors I’d met there.  She asked why I was waiting and I gave her the short version.  She said, “Italian doctors like to do lots of tests”.  I wondered what all this was going to cost me.  Surely I had already passed the threshold where I’d need to make a claim on my medical insurance.

A bit more waiting before I was called in to the doctor again.  Apparently the nurse messed up the arterial blood draw getting venous blood instead, not the bright red of oxygenated blood.  So the doctor re-did the test, repeatedly probing my forearm searching for an artery.  I don’t like it when doctors do procedures usually done by others as they don’t have much practice.  After another wait, I was called in for the verdict from the doctor.  Everything tested fine.  She suggested that it might be stress.  I thought, “Perhaps I need a vacation from my vacation?”

The doctor gave me my results all nicely done up on computer, something she had done herself in between talking to and testing me (very different from Canadian emergency rooms).  I asked where I should pay and she said that they have a system to charge foreigners for treatment, but not at this hospital.  Pardon?  She said, “They might send you a bill”.  I thought, “I wonder how many of those they ever collect?”

After 5 hours in emergency

So I left with my wallet intact and a clean bill of health, relieved but a bit worried that they didn’t find a definitive cause for my symptoms, which have abated since.  Don’t I look relieved?

The doctor prescribed fluids!

I let my guard down for just a second…

I was looking forward to seeing Athens again.  I was here for 1 day only when I was 17 years old, a stop on a whirlwind educational trip to the Mediterranean that I took with my school in Grade 11.  Diane and I got up early and drove from Delphi, the home of the famous Oracle, and arrived at Camping Athens in about 3 hours.  We had a quick lunch and caught a bus followed by the metro (subway) to the Acropolis.

We decided to beat the heat of the afternoon by first visiting the air-conditioned Acropolis Museum, a beautiful new facility at the base of the Acropolis.  It was built with easy money prior to the Greek debt crisis to house the treasures of the Acropolis, the temple complex on the hill above.  The Acropolis is the site of the famous Parthenon, a 2500 year old temple to the goddess Athena the Virgin and the finest temple of the ancient world.  This museum provides a good history of the Acropolis from ancient through classical to modern times, displays many pieces of statuary, and has a full-scale installation of the frieze of the Parthenon.

We headed up to the Acropolis around 5 PM, hoping that the majority of tourists would have vacated.  We hiked up through the Propylaea Gate, past the Temple of Athena Nike, then around the Parthenon and the Erectheion.  I took lots of photos, some of which were undoubtedly outstanding, but we eyed an approaching storm and headed down the hill.  The sky became grey and the wind picked up.  The marble steps and rocks were slippery enough on our way up and were likely to be even more so when the rain started coming down.

I climbed Areopagus (Mars Hill), a bare marble outcrop across near the base of the Acropolis upon which the Apostle Paul was supposed to have delivered his famous speech (Acts 17:16-34) to Athenians about the Christian god.  Diane needed to go to the bathroom, so she headed off to the ticket booth to find the loo.  The storm looked like it might bypass us.  I sat there with some brave tourists watching the storm sweep down on the city of Athens below us.  Diane soon returned so I stepped away from my choice bit of rock, leaving my backpack there to secure my spot.  I helped Diane up the final bit of stone and we returned to my chosen seat.  Streaks from the clouds showed us where the rain was falling.  Lightening arched down on the distant hills.  It was a spectacular show.  Luckily I brought refreshments.  Salted peanuts and a large can of beer to share.  I was really enjoying myself.  Diane didn’t like the look of the approaching storm and wanted to go down.

A grey rock outcrop viewed from above, surrounded by trees with houses in the distance

Mars Hill viewed from the Acropolis (source: Wikipedia)

I reached for my camera to take another amazing picture of the storm, but it wasn’t there.  I remembered setting it on the rock beside me, but it was gone.  A quick feel of my backpack confirmed that it wasn’t there either.  I said to Diane, “My camera is gone.  Stay here with the stuff” and I jumped up to see what I could see.  I had only set it down beside me one minute beforehand.

I didn’t see anyone obvious carrying it, so I headed for the steps.  There were two young guys there, one of whom was carrying a camera protectively, but it had a different strap than mine.  I ran down the steps and found 2 Greek cops at the bottom, sitting in a marked Smart Car.  I was eyeing the crowd retreating from the rock, but I didn’t see my camera.  I told the policemen that someone just stole my camera.  To their credit, one of them jumped into action, and I followed him up onto the rock.  By this time the rain had started falling, and Diane was packing to leave.

Because I hadn’t seen who took the camera, there wasn’t much we could do.  We scanned the crowd, but no one looked suspicious, until the cop spoke to 3 young men carrying plastic bags.  They started to scatter, and the cop started to chase them, so I started to chase them too.  The cop quickly called it off though, and said that they weren’t camera thieves, but illegal umbrella salesmen, operating without a license.

And so, my camera, 2 spare batteries, 2 memory cards, and the case were gone in an instant.

I am an experienced traveller (48 countries and counting…)  I know better.  In all my travels, the most valuable thing I’ve had stolen was a travel alarm clock somewhere in Indonesia.  I’ve met many others, including close friends, who’ve lost valuables while traveling though.  In certain places you only need to let your guard down for a second.

On the bright side (I’m an optimist), the camera had served me well.  It was 40 months old and had been traveling for over 15 months of its life, visiting 4 continents.  I got my money’s worth.  And fortunately, I made a copy of my photos only 2 days before, so I didn’t lose many. Apparently the person who took it wanted it more than I did.  Unfortunately, I won’t be able to share my Delphi or Acropolis pictures with you, but let me assure you, they were awesome.

Update – I’m going to buy a new camera, spare battery, memory card, and case to replace the ones I’d lost.  Let’s hope that I can record as many wonderful memories with these as I did with the last ones.  In the meantime, we’re using our back-up point-and-shoot camera and iPhone for photos.

Author’s Note — Today’s blog cost hundreds of dollars.  I never knew that blogging would be so expensive!