April 2, 2006
Today I made a few ridiculous "home movies" cooking and then "hosting" our apartment (how to make breakfast).
It's our day to visit Galleria Borghese. Our reservation, made on the internet a couple of weeks ago, is for 11:00. We take the Metro right from our own Piazza Vittorio, up to Barberini.
We walk up the rather posh Via Veneto (Fellini filmed his "Dolce vita" here) to the Villa, walking through the lovely Villa Borghese park.
We are given 2 hours to see the Painting Room upstairs and ALL of the sculptures on the first floor. The highlights are the Caravaggiop paintings and the Bernini statues-2 busts of Cardinal Borghese (the first developed a big crack), 2 self portraits when he was quite young, his exquisite David, his early work Aeneas, Rape of Proserpine and the most amazing Apollo & Daphne. Also Canova's "Pauline Bonaparte as Venus."
(Gil Here: I've only recently become aware of Bernini. I've always admired sculpture, it's like a 360 degree painting, but haven't bothered to learn the pieces or the sculptors' names. I now know Bernini's. This guy does simply amazing things with rock. Things like in the "Rape of Proserpine" he puts the indentations made by Pluto's hand into the flesh of Proserpine SO PERFECTLY that the marble appears to be as soft as flesh. It's simply amazing. I'm now a huge fan...ok now, I'm kind of embarrassed...I'm gushing. Let's move on.)
We walk through the park and to the Metro tunnels to the Spanish Steps Metro Stop. The Steps were covered by hordes of people! (hordes of people)
We walk to the Trevi fountain-even worse! A zoo! Argh! (even larger hordes)
Then to the Piazza di Pietro-ancient columns incorporated into later buildings, and Trajan's Column.
Then to the Pantheon. There are lots of people, but this nearly 2,000 year old building, perhaps one of the most significant pieces of architecture in Western Civilization, still has great impact and is a "must see." Looking up to the "oculus," we were seeing exactly what legions of people have seen for millenia. The Roman concrete dome is 23 feet thick at its base, tapering to "just" 5 feet at the top. It still ranks as a world-class engineering marvel.
Then we walked to nearby Piazza Navona. Of course we had to have the famous "death by chocolate" Tartufo gelato at Tre Scalini, and admire the 3 fountains there, including Bernini's 4 Rivers in the middle. We take close-up pictures of the bird atop Bernini's 4 River's a la Dan Brown's (of "da Vinci Code" fame) "Angels & Demons" book.
Took a bus to Termini, then walked miles toward our apartment looking for a laundromat and email combination close to us. We finally gave up, very footsore, and ended up using the very first place we had used for internet access when we had first arrived in Rome, on Via Principe about 4 blocks north of the apartment.
No dinner-took more home movies, this time of Gil, presenting the living room and bedroom. (the bedroom), (the living room)
We walked back to Esquilino Mercato on Via Principe Amadeo. We love this open market! We got some sandwiches, bread and strawberries. Then to the small supermarket at Termini for more groceries.
We hop the Metro at "our own" Vittorio station to Barberini to the Capuchin Crypt. Here, we find thousands of monks' bones (and a few whole mummified bodies, still in monastic robes), arranged artistically during the past few centuries. The monks came up with the idea not to be goulish, but rather to inform travelers that death is simply a part of our lives: "As you are now, we were once; as we are now, so shall you be."
We then walked to Santa Maria Vittorio Church to see the Ecstasy of Santa Theresa by Bernini. (Gil says: " Theresa is very hot!")
Along the way: Barberini Fountain with bees (the family emblem) at Barberini Piazza.
We took the Metro from Piazza Republica to Termini, then changed to the other line; got out at Cavour (the Rome Metro is quite similar to London's).
We walked up a steep staircase to St. Peter's In Chains Church, where we saw Moses by Michelangelo and the famous chains of St. Peter and St. Paul.
We walked downhill towards the Coliseum.
This week, it turns out that most government museums, including the Galleria Borghese yesterday, are free to the public - something to do with a celebration of Roman culture. We didn't actually go into the Coliseum (we've both been inside years ago and the hordes of people were unbelievable), but we wandered through the Forum, Rick Steves' guidebook in hand, and ate our picnic lunch sitting on pieces of an ancient column under a welcome grove of trees (did I mention that it's quite warm?!).
Then we trudged up many steps to the old Imperial Palace atop Palatine Hill, stopping first at the grotto in the Farnese Gardens, where the splashing water and shade are most welcome. From the remains of the immense palace, we have grand views of the city, of the private stadium, and of the huge Circus Maximus site far below.
Walking back down to hill to the Coliseum, we drank from a small "nasole" which are everywhere - we are quite parched. We took obligatory photos of the Coliseum and then walked all the way up Labicano to Principe Eugenio and home.
(Gil note: The water in Rome is wonderful and tasty. You can drink most any of it including they say, the stuff in the fountains. Aqua pura in Rome is historical from the time it was supplied by the aqueducts. These "nasole" - Italian for "nose" - are simple, delicious and everywhere in the city. They run continuously and you simply stop up the flow with your finger and the water spurts out a hole in the top of the "nose." Voila, a drinking fountain! It's also very fun to try and squirt your beloved with them and they were much appreciated in this hot town.)
Along the way, we found the Church of San Clemente, which is fascinating for its 3 distinct levels. At the top, which is still below actual street level, is the 12th century basilica dedicated to the fourth pope, Clement, who shepherded the early Christian community while it was still a criminal offense.
We made our way down a stone stairway to the next level down; a fourth century church. Most of this level was buried until excavations in the 19th century. Remnants of ancient Christian frescoes remain. The air is distinctly cool and clammy.
One more level down, and we're now in the surprisingly spacious second century Temple of Mithras. The Mithraic cult dates back to Alexander the Great, was popular with soldiers, and involved mysterious initiation rituals. The lighting is very dim, and in fact goes out altogether a couple of times, which makes for a very eerie experience. We wander around the stone walls, trying to absorb the fact that this was the actual street level during this period. We can hear water rushing, and find a dimly lit access point where we can dip our hands in cold water flowing through original Roman pipes.
Back in our apartment, we enjoyed a fun meal from yesterday's supermarket expedition of "Insalata Greco" (prepackaged salad; quite yummy) with homemade dressing and "Durango di pollo" which appears to be what we call Buffalo chicken wings, albeit with a rather different taste, and fresh baguette.
Oh no, it's yet another home movie - learn more about closing our shutters with Gil! ("How to Work Window Shutters"...an instructional video)
We take the metro to San Giovanni in Laterano, just inside the ancient city walls.
Before we go through the old gate and into the church, we visit the open air Via Sannio clothing market , where Gil purchases the black leather jacket of his dreams, and I find 6 beautiful scarves, handmade of Italian silk (or so I am told by the purveyor). We hear "I am a superstitious man; I was taught by my father that if someone is the first customer of the day...you make an extra special deal" at least 3 times that morning.
San Giovanni in Laterano is the very first "legal" Christian church. It was started by Emperor Constantine and opened in about 318 A.D. It was heavily modified in the 18th century, like so many churches in Rome. The building to the right of the church (see below) is the old papal palace, which is where the popes lived until about 1300.
We enjoy the ancient statue of Constantine and the central doorway, which was lifted from ancient Rome's Senate House in the Forum. According to Rick Steves, "The Church moved these here in the 1650's to remind people that from now on, the Church was Europe's lawmaker."
We note the huge, lively statues of the Apostles, seemingly stepping right out of their niches, and the golden columns brought (according to tradition) from the ancient Temple of Jupiter (50 B.C.) on the summit of Capital Hill. The "Baldacchino" (canopy over the altar) contains two silver statues of Peter and Paul, which supposedly contain bits of their heads.
(Gil Here: Ok, ok, let's simmer down here. I'm not really looking to rain on anyone's parade here and so what if the samples of Peter and Paul's DNA from here don't seem to match up with those taken from the bits and pieces they have stored from these guys over at the Vatican...picky, picky, picky...what do you think you are, some sort of "scientist?")
The ceiling is older (Renaissance) in style, kept in place when the rest of the interior decorations went totally Baroque.
We eat our lunch in the sunshine outside the church, then take the metro home to unload our purchases. Then it's back on the metro, this time north to Piazza del Popolo. (The Church of Santa Maria Del Popolo on the Piazza is closed, alas, is closed when we arrived, so we miss Raphael's Chigi Chapel (also noted in Dan Brown's Angels and Demons) and Caravaggio's astounding "Conversion of St Paul.")
We trudged and bussed our way...
...to the Ponte Sant'Angelo; the bridge leading to Castel Sant'Angelo (originally Hadrian's tomb). The bridge is for pedestrians only, and is lined by Bernini statues of angels holding items related to the crucifixion of Christ (although the three middle arches of the bridge are original Roman).
Lining the bridge are the inevitable street vendors ("Hey mister, need a Rolex watch?" "Lady, you need bag? Sunglasses?"). I purchase a few prints and aprons and kind of forget to look at the statues.
There are 400 plus stair steps to climb Castel Sant'Angelo...or so we were told. You wind your way up and up and up, pausing to consider you're following the exact route of the funeral procession for Emperor Hadrian, in the second century A.D. Then there are the papal apartments, added centuries later. Judging by the self-glorifying paintings and splendid rooms, it's not like the popes were living a simple monastic life.
We walked back along the Tiber River and came across a Fiat Multipla. I took a photo because the Kalal family car, when I was quite young, was this very model. They were very rare in America in the early 1960's (and non-existant today).
We stumbled upon some ancient Roman ruins, now 20 feet below street level and surrounded by a modern building. Turns our they are part of the entrance to Emperor Domitian's Stadium.
We stopped for a snack, and enjoyed cold beers and a delicious "very special" cold rice salad, with ham, corn, olives, tomato, tiny mozzarella balls and artichoke hearts.
Our goal was another church, quite ugly on the outside - San Luigi dei Francesi. Inside, we see three magnificent panels by Caravaggio (1571-1610), including "The Calling of St. Matthew," "St. Matthew and the Angel," and "The Martyrdom of St. Matthew." Luckily, we've brought coins to turn on the lights, as the chapel is normally only dimly lit. (Traveler's tip - this is a very common practice in the churches which house artistic treasures. It's a win-win situation - the money helps support the churches, and you're allowed to take photos and you have enough light to do so.).
We walked for miles, as it was now rush hour and all the many busses seemed to be jammed with people. Oh well - we did find a leather shop on Via Nazionale where I bought a nice "backpack" style lamb purse. (How can I leave Italy without buying something of leather?!)
Finally, we are able to climb on board a bus, which we ride back to Termini, then metro to Piazza Vittorio. We bought "pollo al spiedo" (rotisserie chicken) and fried fish from a little shop along our street for dinner - nice lady, but the food was really not very tasty, once we got home… Now we pack - we must leave early tomorrow morning to catch our 9:30 flight back to London. We'll be taking the "Leonardo Express" train from Termini to the Leonardo da Vinci Airport (known more commonly as Fiumincino).