Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Eternal City - Roma days 3/4/5

On Sunday we indulged in a little La Dolce Vita. From our hotel we cabbed up to Piazza di Spagna (also known as the Spanish Steps). It was great to get back to the old neighborhood, all my dear friends were there, Prada, Dior, Gucci and Cartier all twinkled with a thousand lights and called softly to me. Of course like all of our prior visits when the reality of what they really wanted (money) and what I had (not much) we sadly parted. We then headed up the steps (the best place to see and be seen)and passed the Hotel Hassler where TomKat (Mr. and Mrs. Cruise) set up camp for their nuptials with their equally fantastic friends the Smiths (Will and Jada) as well as Mr. and Mrs. Brooke Shields. We had just passed our third Ferrari parked on the street when for the first time in our visits to Rome, a couple of gypsies tried to pickpocket David. He kept his head and yelled no, backing away so while they tried to grab his arm they couldn't get into his pockets. Being Rome is the closest place on Earth to Heaven, his guardian angel (an older Roman man and his wife) came upon the scene at the same time and he yelled at them "Basta!" (enough!) and they ran away. (Look for my travel security tips in an upcoming blog -safety first always).

Finally the bellasima Via Veneto and its shining hotels, boutiques and restaurants lay in front of us. We wound along the street made famous by Fellini in La Dolce Vita to Borghese Park (Rome's Central Park) to Rome's favorite museum, the Gallery Borghese home of Cardinal Borghese in the 17th century with works of art by Caravaggio, Bernini and countless other masters. Since we ended the day near the neighborhood where we usually stay, a visit to our favorite Roman restaurant - La Lampada was in order. Signore Salvatore did not disappoint serving steaming hot tagliatelle, gnocchi with gorgonzola and ravioli.

Monday dawn brings yet another breakfast and a short walk to the Colosseo and ancient ruins of the Roman Forum. The Colosseo was built in eight years and could hold 60,000 spectators for events. The ancient games were organized into first a parade of athletes 9all prisoners some slated to die and others to survive and then gain their freedom. The Roman empire was in full expanse at this point so prisoners could have been transported from practically any point in Europe and many other countries under Roman occupation. Both men and women fought both each other and lions in the games to the amusement of the crowds and the power mongers of the day. Carnage was the order of the day and the more it the better it seems. The Colosseo is truly a magical creation however and sits now in modern Rome as a reminder of splendor and power of the Roman Empire of the day.

Next we walked with the quite knowledgeable Gate 1 guide - Paolo - to the Forum. The Forum sits majestic in the ruins of its former self as a reminder of where Roman citizens and government officials would come to mingle and speak about events and policies of the day. The grounds contain two Arches - Titus and Constantine - both to honor victories and men of war and conquer. The armies would return through the Arches to the adoration of their citizens upon their victorious engagements. (The 'gladiators' at the Coliseum want you to pay 20 Euro to take a photo with them and we always pass. I couldn't resist sneaking this photo of two ancient warriors checking their Blackberrys).

Next, we walk a surprising number of stairs to the San Pietro in Vincolo - St Peter in Chains. The story goes that two sets of chains the first from Emperor Constantine's wife which were the shackles used to St Peter in Jerusalem and the second war chains used to bind St Peter when he was incarcerated while in Rome. The sets of chains were held by the Pope of the day and when both sets were brought together the miracle occurred where they fused into one. The Church is simple and symbolic.

Next, Santa Maria Maggore is a Church where in a dream the Blessed Virgin cam to the Poe of the day and told him to build the largest church on the highest hill in tribute to her. The Hill is Esqualine Hill and the Church is Santa Maria Maggore and certainly holds her tribute today.

Next, the Church Santa Della Vittoria tells the rather incredible story of a Nun St Theresa who is visited by an Angel and is moved physically and spiritually to love God both in private and in public. The Ecstasy of St Theresa is certainly worth a read and is a moving tribute both in sculpture and ornate decor inside this jewel.

We said arrivederchi to Rome on our last day with a private tour of the Sistine Chapel and the other Vatican museums (our first three days were 'on our own' and on Monday we joined the Gate 1 'Southern Italy' that begins in Rome and ends in Sorrento' As a customer and a travel agent, I love Gate 1. Their attention to detail is amazing and their European network of guides, hotels and local vendors is amazing. It has long been my 'secret weapon' for European travel.) Like everyday since our arrival, the November sun shone brightly across St. Peter's Square as we crossed the Tiber on the Ponte San Angelo (Bernini's bridge of Angels). The day wound down with a visit to Piazza Navonna's Natale Mercado (seasonal Christmas market) and shopping the fashionable Via del Corso - ciao Roma!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

All roads lead to Rome - days 1 and 2

As we left the modern highway with its modern traffic, our views changed from concrete and steel to ancient walls, columns and the 2000 year old basillica of St. Paul. We have returned to the Eternal City, Rome.

Our journey began at 7am EST as we said good bye to St. Clair County, 23 hours later we left our base camp, Grand Hotel Palantino headed towards Piazza del Poppolo. On our trek we passed the Roman Forum and Collesuem as well as Altare della Patria (affectionally known by Romans as 'The Wedding Cake' for its resemblance to a three tier frothy confection) on Rome's major retail shopping thorough fare the Via del Corso.

By lunchtime we came to the destination we had traveled thousands of miles to reach, Enoteca Antica home of in my humble opinion the best Pizza Marghereta I have ever sampled. The crust so thin, yet chewy and crispy at the same time. Tomato sauce sweet and savory a barely coating the crust layered with fresh mozzarella! A glass of the local Lazio region white wine completed our first Roman meal.

As dusk settled on the Eternal City, we wound our way back down the via Del Corso to the charming Monti neighbordhood of our hotel. We visited local stores purchasing wine, Italian cheeses, salamis and breadsticks to dine on in our room, following by an early bed time.

The following morning began as bright sunny and warm as the day before with temperatures in the middle 60s. Roman cabs are an inexpensive and quick way to navigate from our hotel to Vatican City.(Roman cabs are not for the faint of heart as traffic laws are merely a suggestion to Italians and Roman cab drivers take this as a personal credo. Oddly enough for all of you how know and love me despite what a worry wart I am, this mode of travel does not bother me. I get a secret thrill with every time we avoid a near miss with a Vespa driver).

Like everywhere in our world now, the security line for St. Peter's was long. But entering the basillica that all quickly fades away. The Pieta by Michaelangelo, the frescoes, paintings, the canopy of St. Peter, the Vatican grotto burial place of St, Peter and many other popes, never fails to remind me why author Pat Conroy refers to the Catholic religon as 'The Cadillac of religons'.

Crossing the Tiber River we returned from Vatican City to Campo dei Fiori the morning open air market serving Roman citizens since the time of the cesars. Dried fruits, nuts and local jams we purchased from the vendors for our evening meal. Following our pasta lunch we strolled to Piazza Navonna, a former chariott race track in the time of ceasers. Often referred as the most beautiul piazza in Rome, it provides an out door 'living room' to Romans living in small apartments. Families of all styles and sizes were enjoying gelatto and the late day sun on the square.

Our last sight stop on the day is Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, a church but a hidden gem. Known to Romans as Rome;s Gothic church is dates back to the 8th century, where Sopra Miverna was literally built on top of (sopra) the remains of the pagan godess Minerva. However, in 1280 two Dominican Friars began reconstruction of Minerva in the Gothic style and based on a model of the Santa Maria Novella in Florence and it stands today glorious and hidden in it's Piazza for the clever traveler to discover. tHE Church contains a series of chapels designed by many of Italy's celebrated artists.

On the short leg of our day's 7.25 miles walk, we move through the alleys and Piazzas as Romans do on their Saturday stroll. The smells, sights and sounds exemplify the amazing eternal city at her best. Rome is another of the best walking cities in the world and why not since the days of charots and Cesears the city has been home to a seat of luxury and timeless accomplishments. What an amazing day. Off to buy meats, cheeses and wine for the dinner. Buona Sera.