Thursday, August 6, 2009

AN AUGUST DAY IN ROME!

August 7th, 2004 Walking for the day in Rome Italy

We enjoyed the best breakfast spread for many weeks; a wonderful buffet chocked full of everything you could want; eggs, meats, cheeses, fruits, and of course a broad selection of breads. Everything was self-serve and the only thing we had to request was tea for Jim. Had a very good sleep; beds are three-quarter twins and the window has a pull down metal shade (very common in Europe) so it was VERY DARK AND QUIET for as late as we wanted to sleep. The only sounds we hear are those that we make from within the room.

After breakfast we talked with the manager and he called the Galleria Borghese and made reservations (required for entry) for us at 3 pm to tour the recently reopened Museum. A former cardinal’s mansion set in the exquisite pine trees of Villa Borghese Park, it has been closed for approximately thirteen years for restoration. It opened just last year and the visits are very controlled; you must have an appointment and you are only allowed to stay for two hours. Rick Steves calls it “one of Europe’s most sumptuous art experiences….you’ll enjoy a collection of world-class Baroque sculpture, including Bernini’s David and his excited statue of Apollo chasing Daphne, as well as paintings by Caravaggio, Raphale, Titian, and Rubens.” Jim, our resident art expert on this trip, says it’s the best he’s seen. One of the extraordinary things is that this “home” was built to exhibit the art that had already been amassed by the Cardinal and thus blends art and d├ęcor throughout the building. The environment was sculpted for the art.

Heading out to the Via Veneto about 10 am, we walked to the Barberni Metro Stop; purchased tickets and squeezed into the next car for our standing room only ride to the Vatican. Off at Ottaviano Station, we had about a ten-block walk south to the Vatican past the line of people waiting to enter the Vatican Museum. It stretched from the entry all around the Vatican walls stopping just before the Colonnades surrounding St. Peter’s Square. That convinced us not to think about seeing the Museum again on this trip.

Then, when we arrived at the Colonnades, the line to enter St. Peter’s stretched from the church doors down and through the Colonnades all the way to the front of the Square. This was much longer than the lines we stood in to enter the church through the “Holy Door” in 2000. And, August is the month that everyone leaves Rome and heads for the beaches for vacations. Many of the restaurants and tourist services are closed; but apparently the hordes of tourists just keep coming anyway….so who are we to talk!

Having been here many times before it was not difficult to decide to enjoy the front of St. Peter’s without the ever-present stage for the weekly blessings and spend our time elsewhere in Rome. An email from our daughter Mary (who works for the Archdiocese in San Francisco) confirmed that the Pope is traveling right now from Assisi to France and there will be no audiences in Rome or his summer residence while we’re here.

From the Vatican we started our walking tour of about two miles back to the hotel; we walked along the route to Castel San Angelo, the fort built to protect the Pope during of wars, and arrived at the Tiber River. We had not noticed before that they have a very similar broad walkway along both sides of the Tiber River; very similar to the one in Paris along the Seine River. But, unlike Paris, we didn’t see any special beach creations for those who were unable to get out of town in August.

Our first destination was the fountains in Piazza Navona where they are still working on the restoration process. Now they are also working on the church; when we first visited this Piazza back in the 1990’s they were only doing the fountains. Restoration work on these archeological treasures is never-ending. Our second stop was at the Pantheon, one of the most complete Roman Temples that has survived from AD 118 to the present because the Christians converted it from a Temple to a church. This is the one with the circular opening at the very top of the dome that is the only source of light in the building. The floor has a series of drains so that when it rains; it drains! From the Pantheon it is only a short walk over to the Trevi Fountain, a must see and do for every Tourist in Rome. Saw a sign in a nearby bar that said: “skip the Trevi and have a bevi”.

We took turns tossing a coin in the fountain to ensure our return to Rome, seems to have been working well in the past as we keep coming back! In 1999 we witness the Monday cleaning crew for the fountain. They drain the water and scoop up all the coins from the previous week. We were told that the money is given to charitable organizations. Well, today someone was creating her own charity; she had a long pole with what appeared to be a magnet on the end and was picking up coins one at a time from the water and dropping them into her pocket. Several people tapped her on the shoulder and wiggled their finger at her but she continued to work at her job, one coin at a time, while the majority of people just ignored her.

Just prior to arriving at the Trevi we passed the Jesuit Cathedral and it advertised an English Mass at 11 am on Sunday; we decided to come back on Sunday for Mass. We also took time in the Trevi area to locate a restaurant that had been recommended to us as a great place to eat. Found the building but it was already closed down for the month of August. Met the owner who was supervising a cleaning crew and he suggested that we try his other restaurant around the corner. Tonight was their last night and then it would also be closed for the rest of the month. The owner is leaving for a vacation in Mexico. He made reservations for us at 7:30 this evening.

After the Trevi we walked on to the Spanish Steps at Piazza di Spagna. Crowded as always, most of the people were sitting on the right side in the shade all the way up to the top of the steps. There was a bride and groom standing for photos in front of the fountain at the base of the steps. After a few photos we started up the steps. There are well over one hundred steps to the top, all in the sun as the shade was filled with people. By now it was about 1 pm and hot. By the time we reached the top we were delighted to pay seven euro for two sodas!

From the top of the Spanish Steps it was an easy walk to the Via Veneto and then over to Via Emilia and our hotel. We were dripping as we arrived; being in Rome we had worn long pants and shirts with sleeves as we thought that we might be entering several different churches. Very few people wear shorts on the streets in the cities; but sleeveless tops are ok except for in the churches; they prefer to have the shoulder’s covered and they will sometimes stop people who have shorts on from entering the church. Dresses can be as short as they want however!

We showered, changed into cooler shirts and headed for our appointment at the Borghese Museum after a short siesta. The Villa Borghese is only several blocks from our hotel. Once in the park we had a long stroll under the pine trees by way of a broad street that is now reserved for pedestrians. You can see the Museum, a large white edifice, for the last half of the journey across the park. Beautifully restored to its original splendor, it is reminiscent of southern colonial homes in the United States. We both enjoyed the tour very much; they’ve done an excellent job of selecting statues and paintings for the narratives on the headphones that we wisely paid to have during our tour. You wander through at your own pace but the headset keeps one on course; we’ve been told that if you linger too long they will remind you of the time limits of your visit.

Strolled back to the main street and took the escalators down under the streets to the local grocery store for some drinks and water. It is so odd to find this open on Saturday afternoon. In years past, everything closed about noon on Saturday until Monday morning…but it’s been four years since we’ve stayed over in Rome and things are changing! Not everything is now open, but many more are open than in the past.

We are still looking for an open Tabac Shop to purchase some time for the cell phone. We’ve got it working finally, but the Italian voice on the phone says we need to put more time on it to get it to work for international calls. Didn’t find any open on Saturday afternoon. Rested for a while at the hotel and then headed by foot back towards the Trevi Fountain area and our restaurant about 6:30 pm. Arrived early and while walking around found a mini-department store that was open and had an electronics department. She had four of the TIM cards that I needed that had four minutes on each card. I purchased all four and she loaded the first one in for me before we had to leave for our dinner reservations.

Dinner was a good experience. Shared a spinach pasta roll filled with goat cheese and then Jim has spaghetti with fish sauce (mostly clams still in the shell) and I had an Italian specialty dish of lamb chops with braised vegetables. We asked her for a Kir before dinner and she didn’t know what that was so we settled for our “water with gas”. We both talked about gelato (Italian ice cream) for dessert on the walk home but decided to forgo the sweets and stick to our plans to shed a few pounds before arriving home. Did I mention that this hotel had bathroom scales in the room….it is a metric system but by multiplying by 2.2 we were able to weigh ourselves. Rude awakening after two months of no scales; not too bad, but we’ve gained more than we wanted on the trip.

Back at the hotel the night manager helped me load the additional minutes into the cell phone. Even though I don’t need it tonight it gives me a good feeling knowing that I do finally have it working.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed spending time in Rome with you and Jim. Glad it was cooler when we were there. Love the bathroom scales story at the end of your blog.
hugs, Mary