ROMEAfter nearly 20 years of...


July 11, 1999|By Randi Kest


After nearly 20 years of renovations, Nero's famous Italian palace, Domus Aurea (which means Golden House), reopened last month. Built between the years 64 A.D. and 68 A.D., the palace was known for its size and opulence and also for its historical significance.

When the Flavian dynasty came to power after Nero's suicide in 68 A.D., they started dismantling Domus Aurea in an attempt to erase the emperor and his tyrannical rule from history. The palace remained buried beneath soil until the late 15th century.

Of the 300-plus rooms once lavishly decorated with frescoes and stuccoes, 150 have been dug up, but only 30 are open to visitors. Forty-foot-high corridors hint at the palace's former grandeur.

The octagonal hall is the most impressive site at the present-day palace. Roman historian Suetonius wrote that it was in this room where Nero showered his guests with flower petals by way of a movable circular dome.

The Domus Aurea is next to the Colosseum in downtown Rome. Hours: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Tours are given in groups of 25 at 15-minute intervals. Call (39-06) 481-5576.

Philadelphia goes ape

Next time you go to Philadelphia, take some bananas. The Philadelphia Zoo just opened its 2.5-acre Primate Reserve, featuring 11 species -- gorillas, orangutans, lemurs and monkeys among them.

Visitors start their journey along a path crowded with trees where lemurs roam freely. Next comes the Primate Conservation Center, where white-handed gibbons and spectacled langurs swing on ropes and cargo nets. The in-terior path offers glimpses at families of both blue-eyed and black-and-white ruffed lemurs. The Gorilla Theater is lined with 25-foot-tall floor-to-ceiling windows through which visitors can watch western lowland gorillas playing in an outdoor pen.

Other highlights of the $24 million project include chances to see Sumatran orangutans swinging through trees, black-and-white colobus monkeys climbing along logs and ropes, and videos and graphics telling stories of conservationists dedicated to preserving these species.

The Philadelphia Zoo is at 34th Street and West Girard Avenue in northwest Philadelphia and is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. weekdays and until 5:45 p.m. weekends. Tickets: $10.50 adults, $8 seniors and children 5 to 11, $5 preschoolers and free for members. Call 215-243-1100 or

Pirates' treasure at Williamsburg

Pirate programs are the newest attraction at Colonial Williamsburg, and with them come tales of Blackbeard, Anne Bonny, John Vidal and other notorious buccaneers. "Pirates: The Bloody Wake" invites visitors to participate in the trial of Blackbeard's first mate, Israel Hand (8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays through August in the Williamsburg Lodge Auditorium).

"Pirates: The Last Walk" is a walking tour through the historic area discussing the history of piracy and its impact (departs from the Secretary's Office every 15 minutes from 7 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays through September).

"Of Pirates and Platters of Plenty" combines food and drink with magic, sword fights and tales of piracy at Shields Tavern (6 p.m. Monday through Thursday until Aug. 26).

In "Bill and Betsey's Pirate Adventure," young visitors travel back in time to join Colonial Williamsburg's official dolls (Bill and Betsey among them) to help rescue their granny from pirates and find out who stole the gingerbread cookies. Ideal for kids ages 4 to 12 (6:30 p.m. Wednesdays until Sept. 1 in the Hennage Auditorium of the DeWitt Wallace Gallery).

Cost for the programs is generally $10 added to a basic admission ticket ($27 adults, $16 children 6 to 12). Call 800-HISTORY for information, or visit

Don't feed the bears

Last year, bears caused $630,000 in damage at Yosemite National Park, prompting the National Park Service to discourage visitors from feeding the animals. The bears become aggressive when they're used to receiving food from humans, and last year broke into 1,100 cars looking for handouts. Three bears had to be killed after excessive looting. For more details about bears at the park, visit The park's "Save-A-Bear Hotline" number is 209-372-0200 (press 7, then 3).

Staying in touch

Because nobody wants to haul a computer around on vacation, Driver Net allows travelers to set up a free e-mail address so they can stay in technological touch on the road. More than 375 of Driver Net's touch-screen terminals can be found at truck stops, travel plazas and Internet cafes across the country. To establish free access to, call 800-853-7790.

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