Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mainz: The Marathon

Last weekend, I went to my first marathon. It was a combination family visit-marathon weekend. It was a success on both fronts.

Asmus' older brother, Christian, decided to use his obsession into running to cover 26.2 miles in Mainz. As a teen, I sang in many choral groups and never had anyone from my family turn out. Now I am all about supporting friends and family. I had to witness my brother-in-law triumph over physical and mental exhaustion. So Asmus had to go, too. Actually, he is a big fan of Christian, so he was excited to go.

We lucked into first class train tickets from Hamburg to Frankfurt, which is close to Christian's home. The lucky part was that the tickets cost less than second-class tickets. I don't why. Perhaps the Good Lord really does work in mysterious ways. I am a fan of luxury; Asmus doesn't mind a bit of suffering. I am working on him. I dragged him the first-class lounge in Hamburg [after my McDonald's breakfast. I am not a big fan of fast food but I do love Sausage Egg McMuffin, which is called a Egg McMuffin and Sausage in Germany.]. He had some coffee and I went to the bathroom and then we left. We had about seven minutes of luxury. I take it anyway that I can.

At Christian's house, we met Andrea, the Wife; sons, Tim and Jan. I feel so bad. I am this woman staying at their house for the weekend and I barely spoke to the boys. They know that I speak English, so they didn't seem to mind the silence. I hope to be able to be speak to them at Christmas. I said some things but I did not close to having anything close to a conversation.

They are very energetic. I like that. There was a lot of running and hitting and jumping and screaming. Germany is so quiet. I welcomed the noise and activity. At the marathon, I grabbed these plastic-covered signs for the boys. They are folded like a fan and used as noisemakers. When the runners come around, you hit them on your leg or a tree and they make this loud booming sound. Tim and Jan didn't need runners. With the fans, they hit themselves on the head, slammed the grass, bopped a tree, banged their legs. At one point, they were next to each other going nuts with the fans.

Jan whacking a pole with the fan. Three balloons are tied into his belt loops in the back. Andrea awaits Christian's passage. Tim had just taken a break from beatng a tree.

Andrea and Tim had strategized. I adore plans. I was so impressed by the maps and schedules. They knew where to park the car. They had pinpointed where and at around what time they would meet to cheer on Tim and had a location for rendesvous when the race was over.

Andrea running with Christian for a bit at Kilometer 28 (There are about 42 kilometers in a marathon.). That's your noble host pointing.

We spent the day moving through Mainz sitting, talking, playing ball, hitting things with fans and at the appointed time we cheered and took pictures. We spent a while near the 38th kilometer mark. Tim and Asmus played soccer with a tennis ball. I was amazed by Asmus' skill. I have never seen him WATCH soccer but here he was playing soccer for about 30 minutes. When I questioned the source of his skills, he simply said, "It's in the genes. I am German." Hmm. What happened to my lazy husband who thought national identity was stupid? Despite the shock at my husband's sudden patriotism, I had a great day.

Christian finished with a time of 4 hours and 39 seconds. He then walked Jan to get his chance to race in a faux Olympic race.

Andrea and Jan in their fake Olympic dash. Christian is taking a photo of the race from a perch on the right.

After that, he walked about 2 miles to the car. I don't know how he did it. I was about to die and I hadn't run anywhere.

I think he is still a bit crazy from the race because he just signed up to run another marathon in the fall.

The entire family [plus an anymous marathoner] run for a bit near kilometer 38.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Honeymoon IV - Appian Way

The next day we hit the Appian Way.

It took forever to figure out the best way to get there from the hotel.

There were a sign or two underground. Above ground, nothing.

We were supposed to catch a bus next to a church. We are walking and walking. Asmus prefers to just go. I want to check everything first. Getting to new places is always an argument waiting to happen with us.

"Let's go this way."


"Why not?"

"I don't think that's a good reason."

We have had that conversation several times.

We set off for the Appian Way near the end of the day, because the one thing we do agree with is that there is no need to kill yourself to get anywhere in the morning. We walked around and around and around. It was getting late and I was worried that we would miss the sights. Finally I said we should look for a bus stop near this massive church a block or two in front of us. Near the church, we see the bus but we are not sure where the stop is. We ask a police officer and finally find the stop. And we were on our way to the Catacombs of Calixtus.

The catacombs closed at 5 and we got off the bus at 3:30. Our system was to eat a huge breakfast and grab something on the go for lunch. We are running late but starving. Thankfully, there was a big lunch truck on the side of the road. I was also grateful that there was no seating there. I like to walk and eat; Asmus likes to take his time to eat. That is another argument we often have. But there was no seats, so there was no debate on this day. I had the best soppressetta sandwich.

We slowly make our way to the catacombs while we chomp. Fields and trees for acres. We buy tickets to see the catacombs and discover that we must be a part of a tour. The next tour is not until 4; this is also the last tour of the day. We have 20 minutes, so we kill time at the gift shop.

I learned that the Catholic Church owns the approximately 60 catacombs along the Appian Way. The gift shop sells all these religious items. Asmus' father, Friedrich, asked for a statue of the Pope as a joke gift. I went on the prowl. There was no statue but there were several photographs of the Pope. I settled on a 1" x 1" color photograph in a gold colored "frame". I don't think the frame is a separate piece. We also got a calendar with photographs of Roman sites. I was excited to start filling it up with events. But I was struck to find out that it was from 2010. Doh!

So we amble to the opening of the catacomb at 4 unsure of what happens next. They start calling for people to go on a tour in different languages. Apparently guests get tours in various languages. So we wait and wait and wait. The French group come running out of the gift shop and I hate them. The Spanish group excitedly starts. Then the German group is called. Asmus and I -- the English-speaking group -- are the last called. Plus, we are not allowed underground. I was little upset. I wanted to get to the graves!

I was soon happy about the delay. Our tour guide, a nice lady that I will call Lola (I don't believe that was her name but that is what I am going to call her.) directed us to this grassy area with some photographs on it. She explained the history and the functions of the catacombs. The Catacombs of San Calixtus was the largest of all the catacombs that are under the Appian Way. It covered 20 kilometers (or a million miles. I still am not good translating metric stuff. Although if I have 2 minutes, I can figure out length. I cannot fathom temperature or weight. Is a kilogram heavier or lighter than a pound? Is 30 degrees C cold or hot?).

The catacombs were the church and graveyard for early Christians. Oddly enough, Rome is the home of the catholic church now. Back in the first century AD, Christianity was outlawed in the empire, so Christians worshipped secretly. One of the main sites for worship were the catacombs. The catacombs were rooms dug out by Christians. Burial was against the law in Rome. Eventually, the catacombs became graveyards. Interesting note: in its early days Jews were also buried in the catacomb.
When Rome made Christianity legal, the catacombs were no longer used to bury the dead. However, pilgrims would come visit the dead. Eventually, the sites were abandonded. The catacombs were re-discovered in the 1500s.

The early Popes were buried in the four-level San Calixtus catacombs. The catacombs were active until about the fourth century. The remains of the Popes are now in Vatican City.

A view of the Popes' burial area

After our 10-minute lesson, we got to descend into the catacombs, which are 20 meters deep. It was wet and cold. The rows were lined with this holes that were about 18 inches high and 5 feet long. These were graves. People were shoved in these holes and covered with stone. There symbols of fish and an amalgamation of Greek letters near most of the graves. It was a bit creepy but exciting. People were willing to risk their lives to worship. They scurried below ground in order to worship. When family members died, they would work their ways through the dark tunnels to bury them and visit the graves. Now there are fluroescent lights in the tunnels but then there were small torches.

During the tour, Lola pointed out the symbols she described during our lesson. There was extended talks at the original graves of the Popes and the grave of St. Cecilia. Her remains were removed a millenium or so ago. There is a statue there now. She has a line across her neck, to signify the place where the sword cut off her head (the traditional way to kill Christians) and three open fingers on her right hand and one on her left. The right hand symbolized her faith in the Trinity and the left showed her faith in one powerful God.

The former grave of St. Cecilia. A statue sits here because her remains were removed.

Of course, there was a difference between the rich and the poor. The graves of the poor lined the tunnels; wealtheir families were buried in their own little rooms. These rooms were decorated with murals depicting scenes from the Bible. For reasons that I do not know, Jonah was important to early Christians. The rooms we saw were decorated with paintings with the unfortunate fisherman. But poor and slaves did get to be buried.

A family room

I don't know how but Lola casually walked through two levels of the catacombs. I was amazed because every tunnel looked exactly the same to me. I totally understand why one must have a tour guide to explore the catacombs.

In addition to the graves and murals, there was some statutues and frescoes. The area around the Pope burial was turned into a decorative area with columns. The catacombs also has a few artifacts, like oil lamps and cups.

At the end of the tour, Lola gave us a calendar card.

Both Asmus and I find the catacombs are the best part of the trip. When we arrived in Rome, we stopped at the tourism office in the airport to get some information about the area. I asked about the catacombs and the representative said the catacombs were interesting but not the most interesting thing to do. She said you should go but put it it last on your list. I think the catacombs should be the first thing on the list. Skip the Spanish Steps and, even, the Trevi Steps, and run to these graves.