Tuesday, July 7, 2009

How to spend a perfect week in Rome

I took the July 4th week off and went to Rome with a close friend. I wanted a break, my kids are teenagers and have their own travel plans this summer and my husband is training for the World Kiteboarding championship – perfect set up for a week away and Rome is my favorite city in the world.

If you have never been, find time before you die to explore the eternal city. Its 3000 years of history piled up and intermingled, its extraordinary art and architecture, its role in the creation of today’s world and our modern culture and language, its narrow streets, beautiful rooftops and delicious food. And people who kindly correct halting attempts at Italian.

Rome is perfect – dirty, hot, dusty, fragrant, glorious, inspiring, tiring, sweet and salty, did I say hot?, moving, educating, goosebump making and fills my soul.

Here’s our close to perfect itinerary – and only 20% of what you should see when you go:

Sunday night

Piazza Navona – Bernini’s fountain of the four rivers – and gelato
Sat on the Spanish steps. Absorbed and relaxed before bed

Walked to St Peters, over the river, past Castel Sant’ Angelo
St Peter’s Basilica – waited for the service to end (Monday was an important Saint’s day) – got blessed by the Pope from the papal balcony (prayed my suitcase would eventually show up) – remembered to cover shoulders and knees this time so we could get in – teared up in front of Michaelangelo’s Pieta – wandered slowly and in awe throughout the Basilica. (Read Basilica if you’re interested in the history and building.) St Peter’s was the start of my horror of and fascination with the wealth and power of the Papacy.
Colosseum – walked every pathway – marveled at the design
Walked home through Circus Maximus
(Found pharmacy – bought toothbrush etc. – no ETA for suitcase at this point)

Gallery Borghese – started Penny’s guided tour of Rome’s Carrevagios for her friend. Fell in love with Bernini all over again. Started our close examination of ceiling frescos from the 16th century. Visited my favorite Titian – so glad the Italian government didn’t allow the painting to be sold when the family needed money. Saddened by how prevalent rape is in Roman mythology.
Trajan’s Markets – Augustus’ forum – we were shopkeepers for an hour.
Trevi Fountain (kept hand on backpack at all times)
Walked to Palazzo Barberini but the gallery’s closed – walked up and down glorious staircases imagining we are ladies of the court in long gowns leaving an all night ball.
Looked for the carved Barberini bees around the neighbourhood.
(Shop for a dress and underwear – needed a change of clothes – suitcase finally arrives late at night – robbed of all valuables)

Vatican Museum – learn about the connection between ancient Greek and Roman sculptures and the inspiration of Michaelangelo and Bernini. Particularly taken with Roman floor mosaics. Cried in the Sistine Chapel. (Was also infuriated that I had to use my sunglasses b/c thieves took my glasses – learned to put them on to see detail and take them off to see color – weird)
Walked miles to find an Italian iPhone cable.
Pantheon to study the engineering of the roof (so we can better understand the basilica ruins when we see them)
Palazzao Barberini – lay on our backs for a long time in each room studying the ceiling frescoes – almost fell asleep. Found the Caravaggio – another one of my favorites.

Morning trip to Tivoli
Hadrian’s Villa – learned the sad story of his lover who committed suicide – yet another example of where money doesn’t buy happiness.
Villa D’Este – how many different fountains can make you draw your breath? Many for me that day.
San Clemente to see the 2500 year old Mithraen temple… buried a floor below a 4th century church… buried a floor below a 12th century church. Damp, dark and fascinating.
Santa Maria de Poppolo to see the two very fine Caravaggios – one of St Peter being crucified upside down, one of the conversion of St Paul – both notable for their shocking perspective – someone else turned on the light (missed my son who patiently kept turning the light on for me last time).

Museum of the Wall on the Appian way. Made friends with the docent Bruno – he speaks no English – my Italian is sparse but we managed a wonderful conversation at the top of the tower about what we were looking at – I longed to run away from life and hike the Appian way to Brindisi
Walked up the Appian way into Rome – my imagination was on fire at this point.
Baths of Caracalla – so very, very big even in ruin
St Maria in Trastevere – admired the mosaics in the apse – we could see the direct connection to the art of the Roman mosaics – listened to the choir for a while
Palazzio Corsini – hunted for the Caravaggio but it was disappointing – found the whole gallery underwhelming – and Villa Farnesina (which was why we had come over here) was closed.
Capitoline Museum – another one of my favorites – particularly loved Marcus Aurelius on his horse and bronze Hercules. Ran into Bruno – turned out he also works in Capitoline. He led us to the air conditioned room to cool off – very sweet. Found our last Caravaggios – one early and one late in his career.

Roman Forum and Palantine – started early because it was going to be a scorcher and it was! Took half the day because we left no stone unturned. I got goosebumps standing in the Roman senate – I swear Julius Caesar is still there. Loved the palace ruins on the Palantine.
Museum of Rome to see the room frescoes from the Roman palaces right after seeing the palaces themselves – stunningly beautiful but I was again enraptured and fascinated by the floor mosaics. (Watch the HBO series Rome to see a realistic view of what the palaces were like 2000 years ago).
Enough – it was time to pack.

Girls having fun in the sun

Fun tips from our trip:
We ate breakfast early to get a jump on the day because of the heat – retreated for lunch during the worst heat of the day – and ate dinner late.
We rented the audio tours wherever we could – soaking up the information – synchronized our starts so we were in sync together and could compare notes on our impressions
Gelato time late afternoon – needed the cool down and the pickmeup
2 hours of work before dinner - important to stay connected.
And ate marvelous food for every single meal – walk, eat, walk, eat – hopefully it balances out.

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