Friday, July 29, 2011

High on Rome

Today brought humidity and a lag to our steps.  No wonder we were dragging just a bit though, we really have been on the go this week, even with our rests in the park and siestas in the apartment.  But it was our last full day in Rome and we had a couple things we still wanted to do, if we could.  So back to St. Peter's we went this morning, to climb the cupola.  320 stairs to the top...and that was after the elevator part way up (shaving off more than 200 more steps - well worth the extra 2 euro, I figure!)  Surprisingly, the climb was considerably less arduous than we anticipated, at least at the time.  Our legs were feeling it later in the day though.  But it wasn't as hard as climbing the Duomo in Florence.  What a view from up there!!

The interior of St. Peter's looks so far down and how small the people are. You can get a sense of just how incredibly HUGE this basilica is when gazing down from up here. And the photo below in only one of the short (transepts?)

The letters in the gold ring around the top are about ten feet high...they appear only inches big when looking up from the floor.

 Once at the top, you can circle around the outside of the cupola to stare in amazement at the view!  This is looking down over the facade of the church, at the piazza designed by Bernini.

Looking down the opposite side..."someone" apparently has beautiful gardens in which to stroll around in Vatican City...can't imagine who that could be!

At the top, feeling quite pleased with ourselves!

Mom on the way down...a couple of the spiral staircases were quite narrow and steep.  At one point, a woman behind me kept talking about feeling claustrophobic.  I didn't mind it at all, but can see how it might bother others.  There were also places where the walls and stairs were curved, which was pretty discombobulating to climb!

Part way down, you can walk out over the roof of the facade and, if feeling inspired to part with your money, you can buy something at the gift shop (we were not so inspired!)

We worked up quite an appetite with all this climbing, so next on the agenda was lunch.  I can't recall the name of the place - possibly San Marco, which sounds right since it had a pic of Venice on the wall.  It was a couple blocks from Lepanto metro station.  We had pizza...and lots of water!  I had a pizza with buffalo mozza, a particular variety of tomato which name I can't recall, prosciutto and basil on a thin crust.  It was good, but not as good as the smoked salmon delight from last night.  Mom tried one with a thicker crust, which had some type of greens on it (didn't quite seem to be spinach, but not sure.)

Mom had read about the museum in Palazzo Barbarini and was intrigued, so after lunch we hopped on the metro and were there in no time!  A rather imposing structure it is, I must say. 

They were so strict about their no photo rule that you have to check all cameras, bags, purses, backpacks, etc at the door (in a locker, you pay a euro deposit for the key).  The first floor was closed, but the upper two were open. The man at the desk assured us that their masterpieces were on the second floor.  Raphael's Fornarina (sp) is there, as is Caravaggio's Judith beheading Holofernes (the crone on the right is mesmerizing, her face has such an intense expression!) and a Hans Holbein painting of Henry VIII, among other works.  A most impressive collection.  After making the rounds of the many rooms on the second floor...we looked at the staircase, looked at each other, and agreed we were saturated with art and quite possibly our brains would explode if we tried to fit more in. 

So we left.  When we came out the doors, we noticed a fountain so of course I had to play in it...

And I just loved the glow of these buildings in the afternoon sun...

And this fountain in Piazza Barberini...

By now it was around four or five o'clock.  We considered having a rest in the apartment for a couple hours and then having an evening stroll (since we hadn't yet experienced the streets of Rome at night) but we got lazy and decided to spend our last evening in the apartment.  Dining on the little terrace and just enjoying the view of the umbrella pines, watching the crazy traffic (we have a rush hour outside our window around 7-8pm when the traffic swells to 3 lanes, with motorcycles and scooters weaving in and is most entertaining!)  Tomorrow we head to Assisi...wish me luck driving out of Rome!!!  We're picking up our rental car at the Hertz in the Villa Borghese.  This will be quite an adventure, I'm sure.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Paintings and parks and big giant body parts

Hard to believe this is our fifth day in Rome, feels like we just arrived yesterday...or was it last month?  One's sense of time is pretty skewed here...and when renting an apartment, it doesn't take long to feel a sense of belonging.  What a great day we had!  And now I'm's late...I've more than a little wine...and so it's bedtime.  But here is a quick recap...

First we took the metro to Piazza del Popolo...what a great huge open space, complete with one of those obelisks, which are one of the things Mom is "collecting" in a way on this trip.  Photos of the obelisks we come across. Of the two twin churches, only Santa Maria dei Miracoli was open. I loved the size, the shape and the acoustics...the ornate decor, not so much.  But still a wonderful church to visit.  Then into Santa Maria del Popolo to view the stunning Caravaggio painting "The Conversion of Saul".  Wow, powerful stuff.  The lighting effects in the painting were amazing, as was the realism of the figures.  Caravaggio's "Crucifixion of St. Peter" was there as well, and equally brilliant as far as the artistry, but I was not so inclined to sit and gaze upon someone's horrible death - much preferred to view a moment of transformation.  The no photo policy in this side chapel was strictly enforced so you'll have to make do with googling the images!   There were also a couple of gorgeous Pinturicchio (sp) frescos (one shown below).  I love his work, such vibrant colours, although these were not as sumptuous as his Piccilomini room in Siena.  There were also a few really bizarre images, like the embodiment of Death (also shown below)...not quite sure what that is about, but couldn't resist a photo!

After we left the church, we headed up the hill to Pincio.  Lovely walk up through the treed pathways, stopping at a fountain to dip our hands and sprinkle some water down over our arms - so refreshing!  And the water in the fountains is inevitably crystal clear here.  The gardens (Pincio and Borghese) were a shady reprieve from the hot sun, although it hasn't been unbearable here as far as the heat goes...high twenties with a touch of humidity.  When standing in the full sun, it feels hotter than home, but so far there has been a nice breeze and/or shady places to rest (aka lie down on a park bench!)

We had lunch at the Cafe Rosa (or something like that) in Villa Borghese, and then went along to check out the Capitoline Hill and museums.  We took the tiny electric bus (#116 that through the medieval part of the city, getting off near Piazza Venezia.  Someone (Tony Roma maybe) on SlowTrav had recommended approaching Capitoline from the side, as opposed to the big sweeping main steps.  So we thought we'd give that a try.  As we wandered through the streets, looking for the right route, we came upon the excavation of Portico d'Ottavia.  Have to say, it is awesome to encounter such a site, it felt like history unfolding before our eyes.  There was a building that looked remarkably like a smaller version of the Colosseum (although still a huge structure as you can see below in the photos - one of Mom standing in one of the arches and the other photo is the whole building), plus three columns resembling those in the Foro Romano.

Once we made our way through - literally because you are allowed to go right down into the excavation site - we crossed the road and started up a hill that I figured would lead to the Capitoline but wasn't sure.  Eventually we came upon two older uniformed Italian men so I asked dove Capitoline?  They had no idea what I was talking about...until I remembered it was called Campidoglio on my map.  Ah si, si, Campidoglio!!  They beckoned us forward and led us along to the site, showed us how to find the washrooms, the terrace, the piazza.  They were so friendly and helpful!  My Italian being essentially non-existent, all I could do was say an enthusiastic mille grazie and smile!  We decided to visit the church first - Santa Maria Aracoeli.  It is quite spectacular, but have to say the thing I most remember is the Chapel of the Holy Infant...and sad to say, my memory is one of giggle fits.  My apologies to any who might be offended, but the baby Jesus doll outfitted in gold and wearing a crown just struck my funny bone.

When we left the church, we went up to the terrace behind the Victor Emmanual monument...the view of ancient Rome from up here is incredible!!  I didn't get a great shot on my cell phone, but here is one that shows the Colosseum in the distance, and some of the Forum in the foreground.

Eventually we moved on to the museum itself...I really wanted to see the remnants of the colossus statue (of Constantine, I believe).  You know, that big giant head, hand and foot that is seen so often in various ads (including Ristorante a Mano in Halifax!)  Naturally I couldn't resist holding my own hand up in the same pose...

Also in the museum is the statue of the She-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus (the orphaned twins who founded Rome, according to the legends.)  Mom read that the statue is from 5th century BC or thereabouts...I believe it is Etruscan, but am not positive.  Pretty cool to see it in person though.

After admiring many more statues, including the original bronze Marcus Aurelius on his horse, around which Michelangelo designed the piazza, we were tired and headed away for supper and home.  We left the hill by the main steps.  At the bottom, I looked up the stairs leading to the church, and while standing there a rather fancy car pulled up (a Bentley perhaps).  And a wedding party soon I joined the bunch of tourists snapping photos, because well the bride and groom just looked incredible in their fancy wedding clothes!

After photo-crashing the wedding party, we caught a bus back to our neighbourhood.  We stopped into the apt for a glass of wine while waiting for Raf restaurant to open (closed until 7:30) and then went along for supper.  I had the most intensely flavoured smoked salmon and porcini mushroom incredibly delicious, it was heavenly!!  And now am done for the day so good-night!

Four score... about how many years you'd need to stay in Rome to even begin to see all there is to see in the Eternal City.  Churches, piazzas, museums...oh my!  I must confess Rome doesn't capture my heart and soul the way Florence does, but I still find it fascinating and could easily spend months here.  We had a time trying to decide what to do today!  There are sooo many options, it gets easy to overdo it.  Which is something we want to avoid.  We decided to check out San Giovanni in Laterano and Santa Maria Maggiore, since both are close to metro stations on the same line as the station near our apartment.  We had bought Roma passes, so our fare was covered.  Such a convenient way to travel!  We don't have subways in Nova Scotia, so it is a bit of a treat for me (a sometimes crowded, loud, smelly, pushy experience, but...still a treat!)

Mom and I were both awed by San Giovanni. Well first we were awed by the old city walls and then by the church itself.

The bronze front doors were massive.  I think Mom read that they are only opened in Jubilee years.  This church is the seat of the Pope when he is in Bishop of Rome mode, so the jubilee thing makes sense, as the big doors in honour of the Pope at the Vatican are also only opened in Jubiless years.  I couldn't resist getting mom to snap a photo of me knocking on the door...
The mosaics were spectacular, so intricate and they glowed wherever the light hit them (the natural light from the windows...there were no artificial lights on.)  For some reason, I found myself fascinated with the marble patterns of the floor.  They were also very intricate and beautiful.  Plus one was pretty'll know the one of which I speak as you scroll down, I'm sure!

We also visited the cloister, although disappointed that it was under restoration so it didn't have that serene place of refuge atmosphere of other cloisters I have been visited.  It did have a beautiful sketch - Raphael's Alba Madonna - as well as some lovely tapestries (some not so the one depicting  St. John the Evangelist being boiled alive. Yikes, gruesome stuff!

When we left San Giovanni, it began to matter, we hopped on the bus and rode down the the Colosseum area to have lunch. There is no hope of getting the full Colosseum in one photo, so I didn't even try! But I like this shot...

We wanted to revisit a trattoria we ate at regularly when last in Rome, but it was closed so we went to Divin Ostilia Enoteca instead.  My ravioli ricotta e spinaci in salsa rosa was uber tasty, as was Mom's lasagna al ragu bolognese.  A half bottle of Cesanese del Piglio (their red house wine), followed by an espresso, rounded out our meal.

 Playing with the camera and my wine glass!  What better time to be silly than when sitting in a wine bar in Rome on a rainy afternoon...
Here I am wearing my new piece of jewelry.  I have never seen a fish necklace in silver...have seen any number and style of crosses and doves, but never a fish.  I saw it.  I wanted it.  I bought it!  I LOVE IT!! :)  Put it right on my chain with the little silver cross Dave gave me years ago, not too long after I started going to church.

After lunch, we rode the Metro over to see Santa Maria Maggiore.  Similar to Santa Maria in Trastevere and Santissima Annunziata in Florence, the piazza had a worn and sketchy feel, but I still loved the atmosphere.

The mosaics here were incredible. How incredible were they? you ask. So incredible that I paid to light them up for a photo op!  Alas you do not get the benefit of this glorious sight, because the good pics are on Mom's camera and so I cannot yet share them on my blog.  The business of charging to light up the apse or side chapels in Italy was a practice that used to seem so petty and cheesy to me, until...I got thinking about the staggering volume of tourists passing through these places and the fact that most don't leave an offering or otherwise contribute to the upkeep of the churches and well, someone has to pay for the lights to be on!  I know the Roman Catholic church as a corporate body is wealthy beyond imagining, but I don't necessarily think that wealth trickles down to individual parishes.  I am sure those face the same economic realities as the rest of us.  Also, lighting these treasures really is only for the purposes of photo ops...anyone is welcome to come into the church for free and just enjoy the space, or sit in a quiet side chapel and pray.  San Giovanni had one chapel closed off with glass doors and a big sign indicating "silence, no photos" where people can go to pray in peace and quiet.  As tourists, I think we often forget that these are, in fact, active churches with parishioners who come to worship and pray, and not just gawk at the art!  When I was in the side chapel praying, I also tried to imagine how it would feel to have great masses of tourist chatting all around me, snapping photos etc, in my home church...I think it would be difficult to get into a prayerful state of being in the midst of all that hustle and bustle.

And after viewing these two magnificent churches today, we were ready for something that didn't engage our brains so we rode the metro over to Spagna and joined the horde on the steps for a little while.  It was great to see S. Trinita a Monte (or something like that) at the top of the steps...last time we were in Rome, it was covered in scaffolding.  What a beautiful church!  Eventually we gathered ourselves up and returned to the apartment, stopping into the Bila to pick up a tub of gelato for our dessert - a chocolate and hazelnut concoction made by Baci of Perugia - delicious!

Our evening was also filled with connections with loved ones back home.  I popped onto facebook as we were sipping a glass of Prosecco and Valerie happened to pop on at same time, so we switched over to skype and had a wonderful conversation!  Although hopefully she will get her video working for next time - she could see us, but we couldn't see her.  Almost as soon as we hung up from Val, Sara came on skype, so we had a great chat with her too - and her video was working, so it truly was a face to face conversation.  (And we got to say hi to Jake, and also see the kittens!)  Dave came on an hour or so later, so we were able to catch up as well.  I love skype!  Not sure how Bell etc manage to maintain any business when they charge such exorbitant rates for international phone calls...who would pay their rates when you can skype for free?  Not me!  Then a bit later, Lynn was on Facebook so I got to have a chat with her too!  And hinted strongly that she needs to get skype so we can have a face to face next week when Mom and I are in Cetona! :)  What are the odds of (almost) all my people being online the same evening as we were online from Rome - what a marvellous coincidence!!!  Now if only I could manage to connect with my baby girl, Moira, all would be  perfect!  We've texted a bit, but haven't been online at the same time yet.  Soon though, I'm sure.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Third day's a charm!

Our third day began with a morning of lounging around the apartment.  We lingered over breakfast of yogourt (which is so much better than what we have back home), a handful of crunchy cereal, an orange and some juice...and were just generally slow to get moving.  Not surprising since neither of us slept well!  But then we headed out to Castel Sant'Angelo to tour its bastians and learn of its history.  Well not so much learning on my part, am afraid!  I found it fascinating, but mostly in a "look, something shiny" kind of eye being caught by the texture of the rooftops, the patterns on the doors, the amazing views of the city...

We had an okay lunch in  Il Bar Restaurant Le Terrazze near the top of the Castel. Great views...mediocre restaurant.  I have no idea why we were presented with a several page menu...because it turned out they had only three pasta selections available, or a couple of sandwich choices.  Not being in the mood for carbonara or hot and spicy pasta, and not being a huge fan of clams, I opted for a sandwich...tuna to be specific. (My other choices were ham and cheese, or tomato and cheese).  Dry, dry sandwich without a lot of suggestion?  Give their tuna sandwich a pass!!  In fact, I would say go here ONLY for an espresso (or capuccino etc) and to enjoy the view in a shady and breezy locale.

Next we rode the bus to the Vatican museums.  We accidentally went through the (empty) line up for group tours - seriously, we didn't do it on purpose - and were quickly inside to purchase our tickets.  The place was (duh) jam-packed with other tourists.  We basically zipped straight on through the first few rooms, since were mainly interested in seeing the Raphael rooms and the Sistine Chapel.  Raphael's School of Athens fresco was just as stunning as we'd remembered.

After we pulled ourselves out of the Sistine Chapel (no photos...the guards were just too darn omnipresent!), we exited the Museums through a different route than we'd taken when there a few years ago.  We went through several rooms of modern art (or at least art from a more modern time period, no clue what style or movement or whatever it was.)  A few pieces caught my eye, including a wooden relief of Jesus in a boat.  Along one of the corridors, there were some old marble tables, which were gorgeously intricate.

Eventually we found ourselves at the spiral ramp/staircase and exited the building...this staircase is really cool.  I had seen pictures long ago and remember being disappointed not to see it last time (I greedy am I?  Seeing the Vatican museums and Sistine Chapel weren't enough for me apparently, I wanted to see a staircase as well! lol)  In my defence...hey, this staircase is really cool!!  When we got out to the street, I looked down the sidewalk, jammed with people, and thought man, that sun has got to be baking hot beating off the wall of Vatican City (the sidewalk ran along the wall, which is HUGE.)  So Mom and I crossed over to the shady side, all the while pitying those wilting in the heat on the sunny side.  We came upon one of Rome's ubiquitous and oh-so-refreshing fountains so we stopped to splash ourselves and have a drink (the spouts have a hole a few inches from the end, so when you plug the end with your finger, a stream of water shoots up to form a drinking clever is that?!)  We also stopped for gelato, also refreshing, especially limone...such a tangy burst of yummy!!  We had thought to climb the cupola of St. Peter's but we missed it by thaaat much.  Closed just minutes before we got there.  

So we hopped bus instead ,wound our way up and over Gianicolo hill and found ourselves in Trastevere. I asked Mom if she was okay with a visit to the Santa Maria in Trastevere...indeed she was. After mildly losing our way, we came upon this old church, one of the oldest in Rome. The piazza reminded me a bit of Santa Annunciata in Florence...sketchy but full of life and pretty cool in a down to earth kind of way.

The church is beautiful, but my interior shots are not really worth posting (only had my cell phone camera with me, which takes fantastic pics, but not so good in dimly lit church buildings or when close ups are in order.)

After this unexpected delight, it was time to head 'home'.  We made our way across the river (after again mildly losing our way!), then caught a bus back to via Crescenzio.  The Tiber was lovely this evening, still as glass and reflecting the clouds.

We ate in, once again winding down by relaxing with a glass of wine on our terrace, admiring the parasol pines and the warm night air...ahhhh, heaven!
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