Rome 8/09

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When again in Rome...

Colossal backdrop heading down Fori Imperiali

Borrowing a metaphor I once read, Rome is the delightful chaos of a plate of spaghetti noodles and sauce that contrasts the order and logic of the rest of western Europe. It offers the best of both ancient and modern worlds mapped in winding streets and broad boulevards often jammed with cars, buses and people seeking their own grasp of this cradle of civilization. In our last visit to Rome in 2000 we just had enough time to scratch its surface, so for our return I was determined to journey farther and dig deeper.

Thursday August 13th

Landing at Rome's Leonardo Da Vinci airport at 2pm, we quickly made our way through customs to meet our driver in the arrivals hall. The trip to our hotel, the Marriott Grand Flora, was quick and we were unpacked, cleaned up and walking down Via Venito by 3pm. After an early dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe, we headed to the Trevi Fountain (first picture below), the Spanish Steps (second picture below) and Piazza Popolo. We walked back to our hotel along the periphery of Villa Borghese park. From our hotel room window we watched the sun set over the ancient Aurelian Walls (third picture below) before retiring for the night.

Wide view of Rome taken from the top of St. Peter's Dome

Friday August 14th - Vatican Museum and Saint Peter's

After more than 12 hours of well-deserved sleep, we left jet lag behind us and grabbed a late breakfast at a cafe near our hotel. Having learned from our mistakes visiting the Vatican Museum in 2000, I did some research prior to this trip and made reservations as well as choosing an afternoon time slot to avoid the stifling morning crowds. It worked - we entered in seconds, the halls were passable (fourth picture above) and our trek through the Vatican Museum ending in the recently restored Sistine Chapel (ceiling close-up in first picture below) was enjoyable. Missing the side exit from the Sistine Chapel that would have put us right at Saint Peter's (duh!), we paid the penalty of a very hot walk around the outside of the Vatican wall to Saint Peter's Square where we had to go through the security and wardrobe check (no shorts or bare shoulders, although contrary to travel book reports they do not enforce this stringently) before entering the cathedral.

Michelangelo's incredible Pieta (second picture below) was off to the right behind a clear security shield as we entered the cathedral. I know it's been said often and more eloquently, but this is a really, really big church! Being inside, it again inspired a certain level of awe. The third picture below is just the very front part where the alter is. To satisfy some insane need to climb on a boiling hot August afternoon wearing our required long pants, we opted to visit the top of Saint Peter's dome. We took the outside elevator to the base of the dome (fourth picture below - view of the alter from inside the dome's base), then climbed the 330 narrow steps wedged between the dome's inner and outer shell.

The first picture below shows Craig catching his breath in a rare wide spot in the claustrophobic, sometimes almost diagonally-walled climb. The payoff was worthwhile (second picture below - do I look a bit warm?), offering wonderful views of Saint Peter's Square and all of Rome (large picture top of page right). The trip back down seemed almost too easy. Heading out of Saint Peter's Square, we took the short walk along Via della Conciliazione to Castel Saint Angelo (third picture below with Craig relaxing on the bridge rail) where we grabbed some cold drinks before taxiing back to our hotel.

 

Contrary to travel book reports, Rome was far from deserted during the August holiday period, however the one difficulty we did encounter was that recommended local restaurants were closed (e.g. Harry's Bar, Restorante San Marco). Changing into shorts first, we found a good Italian restaurant, Girarrosto Toscano, just down the block from our hotel where we enjoyed a leisurely dinner. Before ending our first full day in Rome, we decided to take a late night walk back to the Trevi Fountain armed with my wide angle 10-20mm lens coupled with a Tiffen North Star filter, resulting in the fourth picture below. Along the way we had gelatos for dessert and found a good wine store where they unearthed an excellent 1998 Val de Suga Vigna del Lago Brunello de Montalcino for 50€ which I enjoyed sipping over the next three nights.

Saturday August 15th - Antiquities

After another good night's sleep followed by breakfast on the roof of the hotel, we headed out to visit Rome's antiquities. The walk to the Colosseum ending on Fori Imperiali (large picture top of page left) wasn't long, but it was hot. Following the advice of travel books, we turned right up Palatine Hill to buy our combination tickets, but even though the line was short, it was slow because they had only one ticket window open. Undaunted, we trekked all of Palatine Hill (first picture below panorama looking toward the Colosseum) and then proceeded down to the Colosseum (second, third and fourth pictures below).

After leaving the Colosseum, we walked the length of the Roman Forum (first picture below), then climbed up Capitol Hill and hiked another mile or so to Piazza Navona (second picture below, Bernini's 1651 Fountain of the Four Rivers). By this time we were very hot and tired, but decided to refuel at Tre Scalini with a tartufo and gelato and then take the short walk over to the Pantheon. We just missed the unexpected early closing of the Pantheon due to the Catholic holiday, Assumption of Mary. We taxied back to our hotel and ate a relaxing dinner at Il Pomodoro a few blocks away before retiring early to prepare for our all-day Tuscany road trip starting at 8am Sunday.

 

Monday August 16th

After our long day in Tuscany on Sunday and knowing that we had another long day coming Tuesday in Pompeii and the Amalfi coast, we decided to have an easy day in Rome picking up a couple of missed spots and hanging around the hotel. After a late breakfast on the hotel roof, we walked to Piazza del Popolo and visited the inside of Santa Maria del Popolo (third picture below). The quality of artwork, sculptures and architecture inside this one church was amazing, including key works by Pinturicchio, Raphael, Caravaggio and Bernini, kept together over the years to tell a complete story. From Santa Maria, we walked down to the Pantheon with a quick detour for the famous Della Palma Gelateria. The Pantheon is the best preserved of all the antiquities in Rome with an interesting flow of light from the open dome at the top (fourth picture below). Monday evening we walked through Villa Borghese and then had dinner at a local pizza place called la Bruchetta. We retired early to prepare for our all-day Pompeii and Amalfi coast trip starting at 8am Tuesday.

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