The Riordans go to the Ancient Lands

We have just returned from a family vacation to the Mediterranean, where we caught up with old friends like Poseidon, Athena, and many others. The Riordans had not visited the region since I finished The Last Olympian. I supposed it’s becoming a tradition that every time I finish a Greek-Roman series, we visit Greece and Rome.

This trip was mainly to celebrate Becky’s and my thirtieth anniversary. Hooray! It’s also our mutual birthday. That’s right. We were born on the same day, June 5, and we got married on that day when we were twenty-one. It keeps all the important dates grouped together for us. I didn’t do any business on this trip, except of course for inspiration — always inspiration! We were flying under the radar and just enjoying ourselves.

Anyway, here are some highlights if you want to see where we went and which gods we ran into.


We arrived in Rome to perfect late May weather. The view from our hotel near the Spanish Steps did not suck by night:

Or by day:

 How did we choose our hotel? Well, the door knockers looked like this:

 Our first day in the city we explored the Villa Borghese and surrounding park. Here’s me taking my Imodium with a drink from a Roman street fountain after a mild case of Julius Caesar’s Revenge. Ahh!

The Borghese Gallery is the definition of over-the-top. Lots and lots of gods decorate the walls, the roofs and the floors of this super swank palace. Here’s Athena giving directions to the gift shop:

And Dionysus promising refreshing libations in the cafe:

Apollo with his Gibson Les Paul 1964 Lyre:

Here’s Phaethon falling from his dad’s chariot. This is painted on the ceiling, and is creepily lifelike. I’m not sure I’d want to eat dinner with this guy right over me, screaming as he plummets to his death:

The Olympians also stopped fighting long enough to pose for this family portrait:

And Cerberus about to bite somebody in the OUCH:


After the art at the Borghese Villa, we decided it was time to visit the animals in the nearby zoo.

Oh, look, it’s a family of lemurs:

We spent a lot of time hanging out with the lemurs, because, well, lemurs.

A Roman seagull, as Patrick says, ‘just being a badass.’

Peacock versus seagull, Hera versus Poseidon. It’s about to get real:

 Our second day in Rome, we headed to the Colosseum.  On the way we passed several Egyptian obelisks, which the medieval Christians cleverly disguised by placing crosses on the top: 

The Colosseum was pretty incredible. Here’s the hypogeum area. I should really write a scene that takes place here. Oh wait . . . 

Afterwards, we took the elevator to the top of the Vittorio Emmanuel Monument, where we got a panoramic view of Rome:

The next day, we boarded a ship and started a cruise of the Mediterranean.
The first stop, the city of Messina on the island of Sicily . . .
The golden Madonna welcomed us to the port. Ave, Maria! What’s up?

We checked out the mechanical clock in the town square, which was cool. Hephaestus approves of the robotic bronze rooster:

Haley was more interested in this ancient relic we discovered on the street. We believe it is called a payphone.
 We also saw the fountain of Orion in the central piazza, though after writing about Orion in Blood of Olympus, I don’t know how I feel about this:

Finally we had lunch at a place called Baciamo Le Mani (We Kiss the Hands). It was the best pizza we’d ever had, without question. Here is mine, the Stromboli, shaped like a science experience . . . I mean, a miniature volcano.
That night, we sailed through the straits of Messina, the basis for the myth of Loggins and Messina:

Wait, maybe it was the myth of Scylla and Charybdis. I get those confused.


Next stop, Delos, the birthplace of Artemis and Apollo!

I’m sure our guide told us all sorts of interesting facts, but being ADHD, we took a picture of this lizard instead:

 We also saw a guy with a baby lamb at the coffee shop. I didn’t get a good picture but it was the cutest thing ever.

The famous lion sculptures of Delos were fierce and wonderful:

This one in the museum told me the secret about what happened to Apollo after The Blood of Olympus. Maybe some day I’ll share it with you . . .

And the island is still covered with the golden flowers that bloomed to celebrate the birth of Apollo and Artemis:


Our next stop was the ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey, once one of the largest cities of the Greeks, and later the Romans. Once upon a time, it housed one of the Seven Wonders of the World — the Temple of Artemis. Today, only a single column of the temple remains, and when we visited a stork was using the top of it for a nest. Somehow, I think Artemis would be okay with that.

The ruins were cool, though we were more interested in the cats. There were cats EVERYWHERE.

One of those pictures may or may not have been a lemur, but whatever.

The Ephesus amphitheater, where they have hosted big stars like St. Paul, Diana Ross, Elton John and Julio Inglesias. That’s right. JULIO IGLESIAS, man.

Another sign that the Romans were taste-makers way back in the day: a two-thousand-year-old inscription that says I Love Elvis.


Our next port-of-call was the island of Rhodes. The Colossus is long-gone, but the medieval city built by the Norman Crusaders is pretty impressive:

We had a great time getting lost in the winding streets, especially since we kept stumbling across places to eat.


After that, we stopped at the well-known and well-photographed island of Santorini. Here is our obligatory photo:

What I’ll remember most about Santorini are the donkeys — hundreds of the poor animals, used to haul tourists up the cliff-side steps to the top of the village of Fira. The donkeys looked sad. They smelled bad. And no, we didn’t ride them. Personally, I would install a zip line instead. I think Santorini is missing out on a huge tourist opportunity. Wait . . . zip line donkeys! No, maybe not.


Becky and I spent our birthday/anniversary in Athens, which seemed quite appropriate. We visited the Parthenon Museum, where more friends awaited us.

Hermes looked kind of sad because he had lost his nose:

Pensive Athena is pensive. The original Greek inscription for this picture, now lost, read: Where did I leave my chariot keys?

This face will be used in my next marketing campaign: When You Don’t Read Rick Riordan’s Books, Ancient Greek Statues Cry.

After the museum, we had a fabulous lunch at a restaurant called Dionysos (naturally) with amazing views of the Acropolis. The Parthenon was half-covered in scaffolding, almost like they were repairing damage from a major battle or something. I dunno.

Next it was back to Italy, with a visit to Pompeii. How we could not? Our fabulous guide Rossana led us through the city and taught us a lot. Here I am crossing Abbius Roadius. (I’m pretty sure that was what the sign said in Latin.)

Proof that the Romans used the Lego block building method:

And proof that Vesuvius still looms over the ancient city. That little peak you see on the right? That used to be connected to the big peak on the left. And then BOOM. Sawed-off volcano. The official song for the Bay of Naples is: Livin’ on a Time Bomb, because that baby is still active. 

 An ancient Latin mosaic welcome mat at the front door of a palatial mansion. I figured it said HAVE, because the place clearly belonged to the HAVES rather than the HAVE-NOTS. But our guide explained it was an abbreviation for HOSPITI AVE, or WELCOME, GUESTS.

Their garden still looked pretty good after two thousand years:

Finally, we returned to Rome for a few more days of sightseeing. Becky took a great shot of the oculus at the Pantheon:

We saw the famous bronze statue of Lupa at the Capitoline Museum. Wolf milk, it does a body good.

Haley found the directional signs large and easy to read:

We also had a crazy-amazing tour of the Vatican, which is decorated floor-to-ceiling with pagan artwork. I wonder if somebody should tell them. Hmm . . . nah.

Osiris in Popeland:

The Oracle of Delphi on the wall of the Sistine Chapel:

Apollo with his hollow-body Fender 1974 Stratocaster lyre:

Hercules in bronze (and not much else):

A dog:

A cat:

Jesus Christ:

And Dionysus, looking particularly creepy and evil:

The Bramante Staircase, designed so the pope could take a chariot up the ramp to the top floor of his apartment, thus avoiding the steps. (Not kidding.)

Last stop: the Altar of Peace, built by Augustus Caesar to mark the beginning of the Pax Romana. It seemed like a good place to end our tour of the Ancient Lands.

Not pictured in these photos: The several hundred kilos of gelato, pizza and gyros consumed by the Riordans across the Mediterranean. Burp. And now it’s time for me to get back on the treadmill, er, I mean, back to writing!

Rick Riordan