Christmas in Italy – Exploring Ostia Antica

Christmas in Italy – Exploring Ostia Antica

In keeping with the tradition of adventure, Sarah and I went on a big trip for Christmas and New Years!

This year, we met up with Sarah’s family in Italy, traveling to Rome and Florence; not quite a perfect midpoint for everyone, but it was close enough. And, also, you know. Rome. Florence. Amazing!

Please forgive me for some of these being a bit out of order… the posts are organized somewhat chronologically… but also organized by theme and location.  Some may not be exactly in chronological order, so for reference please see the initial summary post, which has a complete day-by-day, blow-by-blow account of the adventure.



Wednesday, 27-Dec-2017

One of the targets that we’d locked in before flying to Italy was a historic site called Ostia Antica – I hadn’t heard of it before, but a quick search told me that it was a set of ruins from a port city that fed Rome, and acted as a barracks for troops. Interesting, and since it was a train ride outside of Rome it would be a great chance to see a bit of the countryside.

The day itself started kind of roughly – I don’t really know why, but for some reason I had a heck of a time mobilizing myself and getting moving. Just a high gravity day, I guess… but once I drank some coffee and ate a coronetti I was feeling right as rain. Which was critically important. Since it was, in fact, raining outside.

Our first order of business was to get umbrellas. Greta and I took the lead on that one, which was honestly quite an easy task, since there were umbrella salesmen on literally every street corner as soon as we left the apartment. We ambushed one (or were ambushed… I’m honestly not sure which) (Ed Note: Greta and Ben were ambushed) and started the time honored tradition of haggling.

Our case was made a little weaker due to the fact that we were standing in pouring rain, but we still negotiated the guy down to 50% of his asking price. He wanted 40 Euro, we paid 20 for four umbrellas. Not bad, right?


Wrong. We still got swindled.

See, what we didn’t know is that these umbrellas came from “Jim’s bad umbrella emporium”, or some equally disreputable manufacturer. We learned this when, not 5 minutes after paying, the first of the four umbrellas inverted and collapsed.

I won’t reference these umbrellas again, but just keep in mind that Sarah and I were the only ones with full mountaineering rain gear, and the rain was STILL getting through our gear. The rest of the group were contending with umbrellas that were… less than reliable. As the day went on we kept a casualty count of the umbrellas. The longest surviving one lasted until we got back to Rome, but not all the way to our door.

Anyways, moving on from umbrellas.

Our train ride was lovely, and a bit eye opening. We started out at the station under the Spanish Steps, and quickly left Rome proper. Once we were past the main city, we got to see a bit more of the real version of Italy; Small towns, interspersed with empty buildings and abandoned apartment complexes. It was a stark contrast to the opulence of Rome and the Vatican, and reminded us that Italy itself is far more than just the main cities that we were staying in.

We de-trained in Ostia Antica, braving the rain once again. It was a short walk to the main historic site, but once we were there…

Ostia Antica is basically a huge open-air excavation of ancient Roman ruins. I mean that – there are main paths, but almost nothing is off limits except for the active excavation areas. Walking along dirt paths, you can nudge the mud with your boots and see beautiful mosiacs still buried underneath. The buildings aren’t restored, and very few of them even have placards… It’s honestly as if we just teleported into a video game, exploring undiscovered ruins.

Since the area was so vast and disconnected, the group splintered off pretty quickly – Sarah and I headed deeper into the uncontrolled ruins, while Bill and Greta followed the main path and Henry and Leah headed toward the museum.


It was beautiful, and we quickly got lost in exploring.

I found an old building choked with vines, that we could crawl into and explore. Sarah found the main amphitheater, and walked me through how it compared to present-day theater setups. We found giant mosaics, old fountains, and even an ancient public bathroom (no, we didn’t use it). It was amazing, and we quickly became lost in the exploration.

Thankfully, Bill and Greta pulled us back to reality with a call to lunch; we hadn’t quite noticed, but the hours had flown by, and we were a bit overdue to meet back with the group. We all met up for lunch, then explored the on-site museum – basically where they took all of the exceptionally interesting finds as the ongoing excavations uncovered them. The museum was quite small, for the scale of the area, but definitely worth seeing.

The path home was a wet one, but we persevered somehow. The rain had been getting worse as the day went on, and actually turned to hail by the end… but thankfully by that point we only had a few hundred yards to go before we hit the shelter of the train station, so it was only mildly unpleasant… and honestly just added to the adventurous feeling of exploring ancient ruins.


The last adventure of the day was dinner – It was Sarah and my’s turn to cook, so we settled down on the train and concocted a rather brilliant meal plan for the evening, based on what we had left in the kitchen. Not to toot our own horn, but… it was glorious. We based it on the standard appetizer, pasta, main course list from a traditional Italian meal, with a small twist – we combined the pasta and the main, and had two conflicting dishes. One was heavy with a red sauce, and the other was light with a butter sauce. I like to think that they contrasted well.

Appetizer, to tide everyone over: Bread & dipping oil

Salad course: spinach salad with green beans and seared steak strips

Main Course #1: Papardelle with red sauce, with sausage and mushrooms

Main Course #2: Orecchiette with prosciutto and butter sauce

Wine: A light Red, if I recall correctly

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