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Oh, the Places You'll Go

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Attention: This is a sacred place. Please observe silence . . . and follow the signs to the gift shop for deals so unbelievable Peter is spinning in his grave!

Of course, the announcement, made in English, hadn’t actually said that—at least not the last part. But that was the message I received as the disembodied voice attempted to employ some form of decorum while, literally a few feet from the tomb of Saint Peter, a sign pointed the way to the uscita (exit) and the souvenir shop, where they mostly sold religious-looking relics. At least they weren’t selling Pope bobble heads. You could only find those outside the Vatican walls.

How does this relate to Magic? It doesn’t—at least not to anyone paging through the multitude of photos on my Facebook page. But to you and to the people who will be standing beside me covering Pro Tour Born of the Gods, it’s a big part of the reason we do what we do.

Magic has taken me so many places over the years that it has become a significant part of the experience for me. I don’t do coverage just because I love Magic and writing—though I do both—I do it, in part, because it takes me places I might never have gone to on my own. I have passport stamps from Japan, the European Union, Brazil, Chile, and Canada all in the past two years because of this silly, not-so-little game.

And it’s like that not only for other coverage writers and video-minded folk, but for a lot of players. I’ve watched Martin Juza fall asleep while karaoke raged around him at 5:00 A.M. in Japan, I’ve watched the Japanese contingent chug beer from their newly-won trophies, I’ve beaten Shuuhei Nakamura in a draft mere hours after he won the corresponding Limited Grand Prix all while stuck inside during a hurricane, and I’ve eaten the best ribs in my entire life with Nate Price in a random bar in Brazil.

So, as I sit here in my hotel room in Rome, packing and preparing to fly to Barcelona tomorrow, where I’ll stay for two days before hopping on a train to Valencia for the Pro Tour, I thought I’d share some of my adventures—and pictures—that could only have come about because I am a powerful wizard.

There’s too much to cover everything I did in my five days in Rome, but I’ll cover the important things. Plus: sculptures with genitalia cut off!

Day 1

The first and most obvious stop in any trip to Rome is the Coliseum and Roman Forum, ancient, incredibly-well-preserved sights where people used to kill each other or vote on whom to kill next.

A site mostly famous for that one scene in Jumper. Don’t pretend you haven’t seen it.

It’s astounding, and I couldn’t do it justice if I posted each and every one of the eighty or so photos I took that first morning. The site is remarkably well preserved for something built literally thousands of years ago and, at times, used as building blocks for other buildings that probably weren’t featuring lions fighting humans.

It’s iconic for Rome, but it’s also odd to think about the fact that it was basically just the sports stadium of its day (built with taxpayer money, because politicians, am I right?). It would be like people trolling through the Rose Bowl in two thousand years and taking audio tours on the famous battles between the Trojans of USC and the Longhorns of the University of Texas, complete with marble busts of Mack Brown, Vince Young, and Pete Carroll. I’d pay 35 Euro to see that.

Next door is a site that’s even more impressive, if you’re a political/history geek. And who isn’t?

A funning thing happened on the way to, well, here.

The Roman Forum was the site of one of the world’s earliest Republics and housed more intrigue than an entire House of Cards season (Do not tell me what happens in Season 2! I’m still in Europe!) To see the columns still standing—and shadows of what was once the seat of power for the entire Western world—was pretty awe-inspiring. I strolled the ruins for hours, hovering over even the smallest detail, including this one:

What happens when it freezes here?

According to a nearby sign, this was once considered the ENTRANCE TO THE UNDERWORLD. That’s right, this was Hell’s front door.

Nearby were a host of other ruins of places loosely associated with the ancient city center, including this stadio, an ancient non-Coliseum stadium. For, ya know, sports and stuff.

Site of ancient Pokémon battles

Having conquered the truly ancient stuff, I strolled northward to visit the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. Now, I know it’s a bit confusing, but pizza and piazza are not the same thing. Piazzas are basically public squares. Pizzas are food sold in every restaurant ever here.

The Pantheon is the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. But, come on; you knew that already.

The Pantheon is a big, round building that used to be used to worship the Roman pantheon of gods (get it?) but later became a church. It also holds the final resting place of Raphael.

Shredder finally got him. He never could control that temper.

Nearby is the famous Piazza Navona, famous mostly for being a place tourists gather to look at fountains and things like this.

This is either real magic or the easiest trick to figure out since they invented harnesses and hard plastic.

With jet lag setting in, that was it for my first full day, but I had a Vatican tour planned for the next day that could not arrive fast enough. Thankfully, my need to sleep immediately sped things up considerably.

Day 2

Sped things right on up to 5:00 A.M. the next morning, when I found myself staring at my ceiling. Since my tour was at 1:00 P.M., that meant I needed to kill approximately a million hours.

Now I’m going to give you a piece of advice. Don’t do what I’m about to describe. I’m pretty sure I’ll never walk correctly again because of it.

Genius that I am, I decided to kill time by walking to the Vatican from approximately the Coliseum. It wasn’t a terribly far walk, but I had a ton of time to kill, so I figured I’d meander and get to see a whole bunch of Rome that way.

And I did. But so did my feet—so much so that I started out an e-mail to my girlfriend back home with one simple line.

My toes don’t work anymore.

By the time my tour came around—a tour scheduled to last three hours, by the way—I had already been walking for hours and hours. It was literally painful to stand.

But, along the way, I did discover a few museums, a farmer’s market, and even a bar run by former Americans that can be described as, at best, a hole in the wall and, at worst, the kind of place idiots go when they hear “American bar” and can’t find the Hard Rock Café.

Anyway, the Vatican!

Needs more columns.

The tour covered the Vatican museums, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica, and I took many, many pictures—just not of the Sistine Chapel. They don’t allow them in there. Suffice to say that everything is much smaller in person. Still, there were some amazing classical-period pieces of art.

Here you have a wonderful example of Roman attempts to copy Grecian . . . PENIS. YOU CAN SEE HIS PENIS, AND IT'S MISSING!

Oh. My. God. What did she say!?

The Vatican’s attempt to trump Epcot’s Hall of Presidents fell flat.

Did you see Mad Men this weekend? I totally called it.

I said we’re out of Modern Masters! Stop asking!

This is a pretty sacred depiction of Mary and Jesus. There is zero chance I’m attempting any joke here. Plus, you have to hand it to the sculptor Michelangelo. The guy could sculpt. And he knew his way around a pair of nunchucks.

The tour guide called this a “modest” tomb for Pope John Paul II, as if people get solid marble coffins all the time.

The dome of St. Peter’s Basilica is literally lined with gold. Seriously, “modest” isn’t a word that should be used in here at all.

The tour was absolutely worth both the pain and the cost, and part of me wanted to go again before I left. But there was so much more to do, including seeing the acres of well-preserved ruins and a still-standing castle in Ostia Antica, the one day trip I would have time for in Rome.

Day 3

Everything was closed.

Do I look like I was joking?

Sorry, the princess you’re looking for is in another castle.

Ostia Antica was once a port town for Rome and has been remarkably preserved by, apparently, closing down for like a week after it rains.

So I took the trip down only to discover this after arriving. The castle was closed too—for reasons I can’t fathom. This left me with little to do once I returned to Central Rome, as I had planned out what I wanted to see pretty exactly.

Instead, I meandered to see a few sights and—as luck would have that it was Friday—a Magic store!

A literal hole in the ground

That’s not the Magic store. That’s Circus Massimo, the place with the chariot races and whatnot. Only there wasn’t much to look at. It was, as it turned out, not far from this place, however.

I’m almost certain that means “Magic Played Here” in Italian. Almost positive.

I chatted with the owner for a bit—sort of. His English was limited, and my Italian was pretty much just “hello” and “thank you.” He did manage to tell me the store pretty much played just Standard and Modern and that Friday Night Magic that night would start at 16:00 (4:00 P.M.), which he typed out on a calculator. I had my Commander decks with me, but as I rarely play anything but Draft and Commander while on the road, I didn’t have any Standard decks with me. I certainly won’t let that happen again, as a night playing FNM in Rome would have been pretty cool.

Plus, I already have my set of Kiora, the Crashing Waves for Bant Control.

Day 4

Are you ready to be thrilled and excited? Check this out!

Oh man, look at those sweet ruins!

Terme di Caracalla—essentially a giant bathhouse-turned-park with all kinds of ruins still standing—was the start of my fourth day in Rome. And it was pretty awesome. Ya know, for ruins.

I don’t know if you’re ready for it, but MORE RUINS!

OH MY GOD RUINS!

After Terme di Caracalla, it was on to the northern part of town and the Trevi Fountain, famous for being really awesome and for a hot chick dancing in it in a 1960s movie.

Not shown: Hot chick dancing in the freezing water.

I also checked out the Spanish Steps, another place famous for its beauty, for its craftsmanship, and for being a place where a lot of people wander aimlessly and take pictures of themselves.

The Spanish Steps, a place where people go to . . . um . . . sit? I guess.

Along the way, I made sure to take note of the random and beautiful art that could be found absolutely everywhere.

Banisher Priest, presumably after Fiend Hunter was deemed too difficult for new classical sculptors to understand.

Team ChannelFireball poses for a picture.

The fountain swore it would never drink again.

GET THIS BABY OFF ME!

And so, so much more. I eventually visited a church that was built on top of another church that was built on top of a pagan place of worship that was built on top of a house, and you could go underground to each level (Basilica de San Clemente) and two more places that sold Magic cards but that didn’t have play space. Along the way, I discovered a few things.

One: Everyone loves Americans.

Loosely translated, I think it means “We love America.”

Two: There’re few things better in life than wandering aimlessly and stopping at quaint Roman restaurants.

To drink beer.

And three: Italy truly embraces the tourists who flock to its city.

Italy totally gets us.

But, most of all, I learned that Magic can take you to some amazing places. And when you get there, the best thing you can do is stop to look around for a while.


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