A Trip Down the Spanish Steps

In my recent thriller, To Die Again (see description at end of blog), the characters of my story are evading bad guys and do the unthinkable…they drive their small car (think Smart Car) down the famous Spanish Steps in Rome, Italy. Since I just spent some time in Rome and stayed not far from the Spanish Steps, I snapped a few shots to share and take you on a short journey down the famous Spanish Steps.

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Few people are out because it is early in the morning. A neat piece of trivia. In the bottom right of photo you can barely see the top corner of a door. John Keats lived and died in an apartment there. (Photo S. Parks)

Considering the pride the Italians have for their historic landmarks, and the millions of dollars that have been put into restorations over the years, driving anything down the steps is an unthinkable act (and can land you in a boatload of trouble$). Drinking or eating lunch on the steps is discouraged. The steps have been, however, a prime meeting place for young and old alike, since their construction (see the crowds below).

The Spanish Steps on a summer evening 2018. (Photo S. Parks)

A little history might help to understand the what, why, and where of the Spanish Steps. The steps are technically called “Scalinata di Trinita dei Monti.” The 135 steps are located in Rome, Italy, and were built on the steep hillside to connect the Piazza Trinita dei Monti (under patronage of French king) at the top to the Piazza di Spagna (Spain) at the bottom. Or you could say it linked the Spanish Embassy at the bottom (which is now off the end of the plaza) to the Trinita dei Monti church up above. How old are these steps? Plans and ideas for the steps began in the 1500s but due to funding, and social and political disagreements, they did not get built until the 1700s. They were designed by Francesco de Sanctis and constructed from 1723-25. Now let’s start at the top of the stairs and work our way down. The explanations are in the photo captions.

At the top of the stairs is a plaza with the church Santissima Trinita dei Monti overlooking the hill. A road covered in square black pavers passes right in front of it. There also stands an obelisk, which is not Egyptian, but a copy made by Romans of an Egyptian obelisk sometime in the 1st to 4th centuries. It is believed to have been used in a private (ruling class) Roman garden. It was erected here in 1798. (Photo S. Parks)

The large convex curve in front of the obelisk is actually the top of the Spanish stairs. This vantage point offers a wonderful view of the city, including the dome of St. Peters. When the day gets busy you will see vendors here, selling flowers and paintings. On each side of the curve are entrances to the stairs as can be seen in the next photo. (Photo S. Parks)

This is one of the two entrances from the top of the Spanish Steps via the Piazza Trinita dei Monti. You can see a vendors umbrella not yet opened.

After you walk down one of the two upper entrance staircases (one can be seen on the left), they coalesce and end in the first of several platforms on the stairs. In the background, you can see the top floors of buildings constructed on the hillside along the stairs.

On each side of the platform above there are again stairs to each side and they continue down to a narrower platform.

This is the second platform from the top. I love the graceful curves and how easy these steps are to take. You hardly feel the climb going up.

This last section has a central and side staircases bringing it down to the piazza at the bottom. Also note the street straight ahead. It is one of the most upscale shopping streets in Rome. The taxi driver who dropped us off in the area told my hubby it wasn’t safe for me to be on the streets until after 7:30 at night. He then winked and said that was when the stores ($$$$) closed.

Much to my surprise, the early Baroque fountain at the bottom was actually built a hundred years before the steps in 1627-29. I’ve seen Fontana della Barcaccia referred to as the fountain of the long or old boat. It is believed to have been designed by Pietro Bernini (the father to the more famous Gian Lorenzo Bernini). The design was also supposed to be that of a sinking boat, and it is certainly sinking into the street.

Other fun facts about the Spanish steps:

-English poet John Keats lived and died (1821 at 25) in a house on the right at the bottom of the steps (26 Piazza di Spagna). I believe it is the Keats-Shelley House museum now.

-The last restoration of the Spanish Steps was in 2016 and Bulgari donated 1.5 mil toward the cause.

-The steps became famous to Americans after the 1953 film Roman Holiday starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. For younger folks, they also showed up in The Talented Mr. Ripley starring Matt Damon.

∞  ∞  ∞

If you’re wondering about the book in which I used the Spanish Steps and parts of Rome as a setting for several scenes, check out TO DIE AGAIN, a modern day thriller with science fiction and romantic elements. Links to Amazon and other retailers can be found on my website by clicking here BOOKPAGE.

A woman who doesn’t die.

A human who isn’t easy to kill.

A man who murders for power.

Death doesn’t come easy to Dr. Mona Signoretti, who is closing in on a killer she has tracked for two thousand years. As part of a special FBI unit, her failure to stop him puts at risk the population of Earth as well as the mission to save her part-human race from destruction. When Mona’s undercover role is discovered, and her life-sustaining energy threatened, human FBI agent, Grant Thornton, is assigned to work the case and keep her alive—not an easy task in a world where enemies refuse to die.

Book one of this modern-day thriller series set in the ordinary world, mixes adventure with technology, and politics with science fiction. If you enjoy memorable characters, strong heroes and heroines, and a touch of romance, then dive into the world of Infinitas. Pick up To Die Again by an author of four national writing awards.

The day B-24 Liberator “White Y” didn’t come home

Tens crews launched their B-24 Liberators into the dark, cold morning air on March 14, 1945 from Pantanella field in Italy. Copilot Lt. William Bradley flew next to Lt. Martz, who commanded the aircraft as they headed to bomb the Marshaling Yard at Nove Zamky, Hungary. Their crew of twelve included two navigators, a radar nav, bombardier, engineer, radio operator, and four gunners. The overall mission was deemed a success, but the only man to survive on Martz’s crew had a dramatic tale to tell.

The crew of Martz (pilot) and Bradley (co-pilot)

Memorial Day, where we remember those who have died in battle, seemed an appropriate time to tell a story about a distant Parks relative, Lt. William Bradley, who died in World War II. My husband had become particularly interested in him (a cousin once removed) after he discovered William and his brother were fellow Georgia Tech yellow jackets. The oldest brother graduated in 1941, and William entered that year as a freshman. William left college two years later in 1943, as many young men did, to go to war.

He was commissioned a 2LT in the Army Air Corp in 1943 and assigned to the 781st Bomb Squadron, 465 Bomb Group, 15th Air Force, flying B-24 Liberators. The the unit trained at McCook field Nebraska and operated until the war in Europe ended in 1945.

The only man to survive William Bradley’s last flight was engineer, T/Sgt. Beeson, who told his story about the fateful flight. Today that story and many others are printed in a booklet of the unit’s history published by the 781st Bomb Squadron Association. Below is an abbreviated version of that event told by Beeson in 1987.

The bombing run to the marshaling yard was not different than many others. The flak, while not as heavy as they’d encountered before, had pegged the formation’s location. The crew successfully unloaded their bombs over the target and were preparing to turn and head home. The tail gunner reported flak following their line of flight, bursting closer and closer.

B-24 Liberator over Ploesti oil fields, Romania 1943

An explosion shook their craft. Fire burst on the pilot’s side as flak came up from underneath his seat. A single glance revealed Martz had died. The last thing Beeson saw on the flight deck as he hit the bailout alarm was Lt. Bradley attempting to control the damaged aircraft. Beeson grabbed his chute and dropped into the bomb bay where the bombardier joined him with chute in hand. The plane lurched, and Beeson fell out, facing up where he could see the plane above going around and around. He never saw where it crashed. Other aircraft reported three or four chutes leaving the plane, but the unfriendly Hungarians below with their town in flames likely left them no chance for survival. Beeson lived to tell the tale because he was “rescued” from the villagers’ hands by a German soldier.

So many people have died in WWII and other wars our nation has fought. I appreciate their sacrifice to allow my friends and family to live in this great country.

An Artist Room in Tokyo

On a recent visit to Japan, our last few nights in Tokyo involved a unique twist on hotel rooms. We stayed on the 31st floor of the Park Hotel with an amazing view of the city. What made this room unique from other floors of the hotel, though, had nothing to do with the view or room size. The entire floor is known as the “Artist Floor” where the walls of rooms have been painted by special artists. Each room has a special theme and design brought to life by a selected artist. These are not the designer stylish type themes you might imagine with fine decorating, but are wistful, bold, and playful worlds. Some themes had 3-D touches, bold colors, or even night stars. Can you guess our theme from this photo?

Does sleeping in the Zodiac room mean a year of good luck?

Yep, we were in the Zodiac room. A special placard on the wall had a message from the artist, Ryosuke Yasumoto, that explained a few interpretive twists he added to theme. The English translation isn’t the greatest, but that makes the message all the more fun.

“Welcome to the Zodiac room! 2014, when this artist’s room was created, is the year of the horse, and I was also born in the year of the horse. I just happened to fill this room with items from the Zodiac. I don’t know if I can paint it well, but I just let my brush run free. I painted a cat which was cheated by a rat so that it wasn’t included in the Zodiac. By the grace of God, I also painted a weasel. The 1st day of the month has a similar pronunciation to “weasel” in Japanese. I would be delighted for you to experience the interesting story of the Zodiac from long, long ago.”

The artist’s point about there being no cat in the Zodiac gave me pause. I’d never thought about that before. Cats have been our pets and helpers through the millennia, so why aren’t they in the Zodiac (or did the tiger take their place)? The Japanese zodiac (imported from China but with variations) has a twelve-year cycle with each year having a symbolic animal that corresponds to the year: Rat (born 2008, 1996, 1984, 1872, 1960, 1948, 1936, 1924, 1912), Ox (2009, 1997, 1985, 1973, 1961, 1949, 1937, 1925, 1913), Tiger (1998, 1986, 1974, 1962, 1950, 1938, 1926, 1914), Rabbit (1999, 1987, 1975, 1963, 1951, 1939, 1927, 1915), Dragon (2000, 1988, 1976, 1964, 1952, 1940, 1928), Snake (2001, 1989, 1977, 1965, 1953, 1941, 1929, 1917), Horse (2002, 1990, 1978, 1966, 1954, 1943, 1930, 1918, 1906) , Sheep (2003, 1991, 1979, 1967, 1955, 1943, 1931, 1919, 1907), Monkey (2004, 1992, 1980, 1968, 1956, 1944, 1932, 1920, 1908), Rooster (2005, 1993, 1981, 1969, 1957, 1945, 1933, 1921, 1909), Dog (2006, 1994, 1982, 1970, 1958, 1946, 1934, 1922, 1910), and Boar (2007, 1995, 1983, 1971, 1959, 1947, 1935, 1923, 1911). So what’s your year?

My hubby and I had fun following the artist’s design around the room and bathroom (where the rat played). A dragon took in the entire scene from the ceiling, a snake climbed the wall by the bed, a cat lingered near the window, and a mouse skittered near the headboard. You cans see the ox, horse, rooster, head of the rabbit, dog, mice (rat was bigger and in the bathroom), and tiger in the first photo. Here are a few more for you to enjoy.

The cat with a leash held by a monkey.

Love the forked tongue on the snake.

Here’s the sheep and another cat. The only animal I couldn’t find in the photos is the boar (and the mentioned weasel).

Lots of little mice played in the room.

Various themes on the 31st floor include Samurai, Lucky Cat, Bamboo, Castle, Kabuki, Haiku, Wabi-Sabi, Otafuku Face, Geisha Goldfish, Mount Fuji, and, our room, Zodiac. All the rooms can be seen on a page of the hotel website (click here). Thanks for stopping by True Airspeed Blog. Consider picking up one of my books for your travels.

 

 

Under The Radar Giveaway

This contest has ended and we have winners! Yes, winners. The response exceeded my expectations so I’m giving away an ebook copy of Under the Radar to the second and third place names drawn by a random generator. I have emailed the winners so please check your spam folders. Happy reading!

Winner of the print book: Pat Widder

Winners of an ebook: Pierre Borlase & Diane (no last name)

*  *  *

If a click on the link in my newsletter brought you here, your name has now been entered to win a print copy of the first book in my latest series.

Please check back on Saturday April 8, 2017. I’ll be posting the name of the winner and will contact them by email.

Happy reading!

*If you are dropping in on this blog and reading this message and like to read thrillers (with adventure, exotic places, and a little romantic tension), sign up for my newsletter by clicking HERE and get the FREE ebook Repossessed.

 

Visit to the San Diego Zoo

My last clear memory of a visit to the San Diego zoo had been thirty years ago when my husband and I pushed my beloved, and adventurous, grandmother in a wheel chair up and down the hills of the rambling zoo. No buses (that I can remember) ran in those days inside the park. Since I was in San Diego for a writers’ convention a day early, a fellow author and I decided to check out the zoo again and see how it had changed.

Welcome to the San Diego Zoo

I will admit to sticker shock at seeing typical entertainment park prices, but the facilities, transportation, and animal conservation efforts made up for the price. The only drawback we discovered was not having a kid along to see the wonder in their eyes as they hunted out where the animals were “hiding” in their respective enclosures. Whether timing for feedings or weather for that day, a high percentage of the animals were easy to see and moving around.

A mellow-fellow (monkey).

A favorite was the small red panda which walked along a log perch and then shyly  climbed up a small eucalyptus tree into the foliage. His/her coat was a beautiful tawny red. The much larger black and white panda common in Asia (China) was napping belly up on a ledge behind a log in the next exhibit.

The red panda climbing around its enclosure and headed toward a favorite perch.

The red panda headed toward a favorite perch.

The African savannah and other range animals in the collection were numerous. The zoo is almost finished with a vast new range/display for them to roam which should open soon.

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A curious baby giraffe.

Gazelles. This one happily munching and keeping a close eye on me.

Gazelles. This one happily munching and keeping a close eye on me.

 

african-elephant

African elephant with the larger ears.

For those curious about African versus Asian elephants, the zoo had both. The ears are the biggest difference between the two, but also the Asian elephant has two bumps on its head, smoother skin, and eats mainly grass (African elephants eat leaves).

Asian elephant with the small ears.

Asian elephant with the small ears.

As usual, the meerkats were active, wrestling with one another and ultimately posing for photos. Their endless energy and sentinel, upright stance on their hind legs, makes for great photos. Years ago while visiting South Africa, I had a chance to see these creatures at a wildlife reserve. Two had gotten inside the reserve manager’s house and were standing in the picture window looking out at us. Delightfully rambunctious creatures.

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Ever seen Meerkat Manor?

As the day wound down, we stopped by the Koalas. Native to Australia, they are delightful marsupials  to watch, and their cuddly expressions are priceless.

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The day ended with the rhinos. While I’ve seen them in the wild, it was fun to have a close up look at their thick, armored hide.

I also used a rhino midden in my latest romantic thriller novel OFF THE CHART which takes place in South Africa and Zimbabwe. A rhino midden is a huge rut or depression where rhinos defecate. The dominate male uses it to also mark his dominance. These two rhinos looked like I felt after spending the entire sunny day walking around the zoo.

If you enjoy reading novels with thrills, adventure, and a touch of mystery and romance, check out my newest TAKING RISKS SERIES which includes the novels UNDER THE RADAR and OFF THE CHART. It takes place in Africa where my characters might well run into a few of these creatures. Thanks for stopping by. Comments  are appreciated.

A Military Wedding…A Stranger’s Surprise

A military wedding…and an act of kindness by a stranger to thank them for their service.

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Bride and groom (in a mess dress party shirt) dancing.

Twin Cove

One of the sidewalks leading to the marina.

Our niece is an United States Air Force pilot and her new husband flies for the National Guard. They had an evening wedding reception at Twin Cove Resort in Tennessee over the weekend. To get to the reception held at the marina, which actually floats on the lake, we followed a steep, winding sidewalk down to a ramp. Our group included a person on crutches, one with a cane, numerous young children, grandparents, and great aunts and uncles.

Few if any lights edged the sidewalk, but on the way there, the sun was just setting and no one really noticed. However, late in the evening as I left with my military son and his fiancee, we discovered the sidewalks in all directions back to the lodges were lit with wonderful luminaries. We even checked them out to see how they were made, and gave kudos to the groom’s family for creating the lovely spectacle.

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Shine on. An act of kindness…a light of support.

 The next morning, however, we heard that the groom’s family was just as pleasantly surprised as we were. Evidently a woman who lived in one of the units nearby had heard a military couple was getting married and she wanted to express her support.

This act of kindness from a stranger touched us all, considering the number of military, both active duty and retired, who are in both the bride and groom’s families. My other son, unable to be in attendance because of a deployment, even Skyped that afternoon to catch the gathered family. The attached photo is not one of her luminaries because I sadly didn’t take a photo, and the one bag I’ve recreated cannot account for the fifty (or more) sand-filled and votive lit luminaries escorting us safely to our rooms or vehicles. Kudos and thanks to the mystery person who did this act of kindness and support. What a nice way to say you appreciate what the bride and groom do to ensure our freedom. Thanks from the bottom of all our hearts. Happy Veterans Day to the men and women of the armed forces.

Concrete Ships and California Beaches

Northern California Sea Cliffs along US 1.

Northern California Sea Cliffs along US 1.

While beaches, ships, and oceans fit well into the California landscape, the last thing I expected to find at Seacliff State Beach in Altos was a scuttled concrete oil tanker. Yes, you did read that correctly, the ship was made out of concrete, that heavy, friable, and not very tensile material.

The scuttled S.S. Palo Alto at Seacliff State Beach

The scuttled S.S. Palo Alto at Seacliff State Beach

So that begs the question, why would anyone build a ship out of concrete and place it in an undulating, variable environment like an ocean? The answer is timing, need, and history. World War I depleted the ready supply of steel required for shipbuilding, so the San Francisco Shipbuilding Company located in Oakland, California took a radical approach to building ships. They based their designs around the building material common on dry land…concrete.

Starboard side of ship.

Starboard side of ship. Some structural remnants and ship fittings are still visible.

Port side. You can see the rebar (metal rods that give support to the concrete) on the sides of the ship.

Port side. Rebar (metal rods that give support to the concrete) show on the sides of the ship.

On May 29, 1919 they launched the oil tanker S.S. Palo Alto, also know as “The Cement Boat.” The launch turned out to be ill timed as WWI ended and no one wanted the ship. It was docked in Oakland for ten years until the Seacliff Amusement Company purchased the ship in 1929 and sailed it (maiden voyage) to Aptos, California. At Seacliff State Beach, it was scuttled near shore and a long pier was then built out to the ship. The company then transformed the oil tanker into an entertainment mecca with arcades, a dance hall, gambling area, a dining room, and swimming pool. Again, timing doomed the ship’s active life. The depression ran the company out of business, and eventually the S.S. Palo Alto was stripped of its contents and metal.

In 1932 a fierce winter storm cracked the concrete hull. The company eventually sold the ship to the state of California for a $1. Now you can walk the pier out to the end where the S.S. Palo Alto is parked.

The Seacliff Beach entrance to the pier where people fish and sight-see.

The Seacliff Beach entrance to the pier where people fish and sight-see.

For years, people fished off the ship hull until it deteriorated so badly the state finally closed it to people.

Gate at end of dock where it connects to the S.S. Palo Alto.

Gate at end of dock where it connects to the S.S. Palo Alto.

You can see from this photo, though, that it has taken on a new life as a haven for birds. In the case of the photo below, it is covered in cormorants that dive deep into the ocean for fish.

Cormorants dry off and socialize before diving again for their meals.

Cormorants dry off and socialize before diving again for their meals.

Historic photos of the ship grounding at Seacliff can be seen at: http://bit.ly/1NIWiC1.

The S.S. Palo Alto has a sister ship, the S.S. Peralta, also an oil tanker which was launched in 1921. Over the years, it served as a sardine cannery and now acts as a floating breakwater on the Powell River. For more information on the S.S. Palo Alto or other concrete ships, these links might be of interest:

http://www.concreteships.org/ships/ww1/paloalto/

http://www.concreteships.org/ships/ww1/peralta/

If you enjoyed this post, please consider signing up to follow my blog for its posts on varied topics dealing with travel and aviation. I also have a newsletter that goes out infrequently to keep my reading fans up to date on new releases or specials I run on my award-winning action-adventure thrillers, with humor and touches of romance. Please sign up and look through my Sandy Parks website.

Thanks for stopping by. Here’s one last photo showing the pier, part of the beach, and the ship.

The wide beach, pier, and S.S. Palo Alto at Altos, California.

The wide beach, pier, and S.S. Palo Alto at Altos, California.