Friday, May 21, 2010

Day Seven, the Capoteline

The Forum as viewed from the top of the Wedding Cake
There are some things that just must be experienced when you visit Rome. Last year we went to the Vatican Museum and were given a wonderful tour by a little lady who we dubbed ‘Yoda’s sister’ so we really had covered that well. This year, the most important museum on my agenda was the complex on the Capitoline hill. With this goal in mind we set out and caught the bus just on the other side of Piazza Zama that took us to the base of the Capitoline hill. Last year we had not climbed all of those steps up the left side to the church which sits in the temple to Jupiter Maximus but we were fresh and so I led Donna up what must number in the thousands of steps. Bummer, when we got all of the way up, the place was locked up solid and there was apparently no connection to Michelangelo’s square in the center of the Capitoline.

We did discover an open gate to the left that led around to the back side of the Monument to Vittorio Emmanuelle (we called it the wedding cake when we were kids). Since the last time that I had lived in Rome they have added a very cool feature to this monument. I had read about it in our guide book. They put an elevator on the back side of it and this elevator takes people to the roof of the darn thing, right up there with the two chariot winged victory statues. For 10€ each we went up there and I have to say, from there you get the most incredible perspective of Rome that there ever was. This is the true, new ‘E’ ticket ride in Rome! If you come, and you only have a day, I strongly recommend going to the top of the monument to Vittorio Emmanuelle which is also Rome’s tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Apart from the two statues which sit higher than the central roof, you basically get an unobstructed 360 degree view of all of Rome and you are standing above every other building for many miles around. I’m pretty sure we were higher up than the top of the Janicolo which used to be the prime viewing place in the City.

There are some high power binocular/ telescopes up there as well. With these you can count the nose hairs on a face miles away. These were very powerful. I took photos all the way around. At home I have a program that puts together photos into a panorama; we’ll see how that comes out. Eventually, we went back down and it turns out that if you continue around the back toward the Corso Imperiale, you can get over to the Capitoline from there. We loved the two museums on the Capitoline, they were truly inspiring. I guess that for the most part, I am into statues, and that is what these museums were dominantly about. Unfortunately, the Medusa head by Bernini was on loan to Capua, co we missed that but I went mostly to see the Dying Gaul because of the book Desmond did by the same name. A tunnel connects one museum to the other and crosses under the piazza so one ticket does both museums.

Finishing there we lazed under some Stone Pines and took in the view of the Forum. Looking down, on the side of the wedding cake we noticed that it was there that the ‘Tribute to Luciano Pavarotti’ was being exhibited, plus there was an Exhibit of Picasso’s work in the same building. We walked down, the Pavarotti exhibit was very interesting and incredibly moving and powerful. They had set up projectors that used a whole huge wall as a screen. On both sides were cycling black and white photos of Luciano, 16 at a time. In the center was floor to ceiling video of his more famous performances including one done in Sarajevo with a symphony orchestra, U2 and Bono. The side walls had grids of dozens of plasma monitors with video of other events with the great man. They said that they had 6 million meters of taped video of Pavarotti. That seems like a lot to me. The stereo system was excellent and the music was unfathomably powerful. Naturally they had other paraphernalia as well. A whole wall of all of the records and CDs of his music, many of the costumes that he had used in the operas he had performed in, etc., ect. I really enjoyed this exhibit; I only wish that I had actually seen him perform in real life. Next we went upstairs to see Picasso, he wasn’t there but there was a sizable amount of his work. I’m ashamed to say, I don’t really like most of what he did. The pencil drawings and the sculptures talked to me more than the paintings but I guess that my true love is rooted in antiquity.

Exiting the exhibitions we wandered around to the front and climbed the stairs in the front of Vittorio Emmanuelle enough to see the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They had a special cop on the steps whose job it was to blow his whistle and prevent anyone from sitting on any one of all of those steps. He explained that this is a military monument and you must not sit down out of respect for the dead soldiers. Five in the evening, tired and in need of a recharge, we headed off to the Ghetto. Most of it is closed to traffic so it is much more pleasant than it used to be. It hasn’t come into its own yet as a tourist destination but I can see that very soon it will be full of restaurants with tourist eating on the streets. We sat down at a bar to have a beer. After a while we noticed that a group of well dressed elderly women were starting to accumulate on the bench across the street from us. Four of them were sitting side by side on one bench. Then three men come over to our side and sit down at the outdoor table next to ours and start talking but don’t purchase anything. As time goes by, more women arrive; they bring their own folding chairs and set up around the bench with the original four women. For a while it becomes multi generational as a young girl comes to hang out with her grandmother. Meanwhile at the table next to us, there were more and more men joining this group. We must have sat down at the tables that they habitually occupy, they didn’t ask us to move or to leave but we started feeling surrounded. Now there were over ten men. Some were sitting next to and behind Donna and some next to and behind me. We thought that it was getting to pretty comical. All of the men grouped next to us and not one of them has purchased a thing from this bar. All the while, those ladies were over there on the other side, serious and watching the men on our side. Finishing our beer, we decided that it was time to move on. We abandoned our spot and the men spread out into our chairs.

Day Six- Tivoli

At the entrance to the Villa D'Este
Boy were we wiped out after all of that gallivanting around Rome the previous day. I don’t know how far that was that we walked but it did follow the walking of the previous day in Pompeii. These old bodies aren’t as resilient as they used to be. Thank God for Tylenol and IB. Well, today was to be a big adventure. Last year I couldn’t figure out how to get to Tivoli but did know that the trains went there. So, we set off, walked down to ‘Re di Roma’ to get the Metro and took it to Termi. We climbed up out to the track level, purchased our tickets and then learned that the train to Tivoli doesn’t leave from Termi, it leaves from Tiburtina, the guy also told us to go down to track one to the information booth. Silly us, we thought that there was something that we needed to know, so we walked all the way down to the information booth on track one, waited in line and then told the lady that we wanted the train for Tivoli. She says that we have to go to Tiburtina to get the train for Tivoli. So I say, “OK, how often do the trains run?” She answers that we have to go to Tiburtina to get that information too. So I guess that was all the information that they had for us at Termi. Back down to the Metro and a short ride got us to the correct station. The Metro really is quite wonderful in Rome, who would have thought. By the way, I just saw today that they are building a new Metro line ‘C’, supposedly it is going to go to all of the ancient ruins. I’m not sure how they are going to pull that off since there are ruins everywhere but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

View of Rome
Neither of us has a watch, so I have no idea how long it took us to get to Tivoli but it seemed like around an hour and Tivoli was beautiful. From up there, you have a fantastic view of the valley that houses Rome. We would recommend Tivoli as a good place for an overnighter as well. The town is very inviting and there are lots of things to explore. Arriving, I asked in the train station how to get to the Villa D’Este. The lady said, just down the road, about a ten minute walk. Well, it wasn’t exactly that, there were some turns and stuff but it wasn’t all that far and along the way we discovered that Tivoli had another attraction. I did not absorb its name and it was closed by the time we got out of the Villa D’Este but what it is essentially is a very, very deep compact valley with what are advertised as the most spectacular waterfalls in Europe. Since it was closed, we cast around for someplace to eat and did go into a place named after mom called, ‘Flo’s Bar’. We didn’t actually go into Flo’s which was at street level but instead followed the signs for the restaurant which led us down a few flights of stairs to a large terrace cantilevering over the above mentioned canyon. So, I did get a few photos of the waterfalls from above even if we missed out on the chance to walk in it.

Villa D’Este! What can I say, if you haven’t ever been there, you really must go and experience it for yourself. Some Pope must have really liked water, they re-routed two rivers to power the fountains of the garden and some of these fountains really have power! Dad, I took photos of all of the different runnels that went down the sides of staircases and in one case down the top of a railing. I remember that you wanted to somehow replicate these ideas at the Kensington property. Perhaps someday I’ll eventually have the opportunity to do one somewhere. Todd & Gail perhaps a PowerPoint presentation for the membership would be in order. I have literally hundreds of photos of the fountains and of the town.

As with all walking adventures, we eventually got pretty tired of waking and Renzo had told us that in Tivoli right next to the temple of the Sibili there is an excellent restaurant that is THE place to go have lunch in Tivoli. So we set off over the hill and off to the left of the center there was a Roman temple which an old lady confirmed was the temple that we were looking for. Next to it was a restaurant that proclaimed its name was Sibili. We figured OK and set off for it. Arriving, apparently after 3:00 p.m. the place looked extremely expensive but we went in anyway and asked for lunch. The guy inside was on the phone but he looked at his watch and said that the restaurant was closed. We took off a little concerned, the restaurant below ‘Flo’s’ was the next one that we tried but they told us their kitchen was also closed as they delivered a plate of pasta to this French guy who insisted on trying to talk to us about how he forced them to allow him to eat outside instead of in and read me an excerpt from his photocopied one hundred year old travel guide of Rome and its surroundings (in French) that explained how great the waterfalls in the canyon really were. This deck had its own private entrance into the canyon garden and Donna tried to tempt me but we went on to look for a place that was willing to serve us lunch. We crossed the street to the next restaurant and that one was closed (locked up) and went next door to the next one. This one looked very promising as there were still a number of different tables of guests eating lunch. We asked the owner to seat us; he looked a little worried and stuck his head into the kitchen returning to tell us that the kitchen was closed. Well, we had exhausted every restaurant in the neighborhood and the eating district was uphill, we asked the guy at the sidewalk gas station what time it was and found that it was less than ten minutes before the next train left for Rome. Off we went in a hurry and jumped on the train minutes before its departure.

Once in the neighborhood of where we were staying, we went into a place that I had found that morning that was full of whole prosciuttos, cheese and bread. We proceeded to buy two ettos of prosciutto, two balls of mozzarella di buffola and three soft, fresh rosetti along with some freshly made tortellini stuffed with ricotta and spinach. We also stopped at a roadside stand to buy some tomatoes and a head of finochio (fennel). For me, I was in heaven; I had one and a half sandwiches of prosciutto and mozzarella in roman paninos along with a finochio salad and some tortellini and a bottle of cheap red wine which in Italy is actually, pretty good. That was possibly the best meal I had in Italy because I missed it so much. I know that those of you that live in San Francisco can actually purchase rosettis from Il Fornaio but I never have found them in San Diego and both the prosciutto and the mozzarella seemed to be better than what I am able to buy at home. Renzo says that if I like it so much I should buy a leg of prosciutto and bring it back on the plane. He insists that it needs to be brought back as carry on and not be checked. Perhaps because if it is checked, someone will make off with it before it gets to San Diego. When he came home Renzo asked if I had eaten at the restaurant next to the temple of the Sibili, I explained that it was closed and that in fact all of the restaurants were closed. He looked at me and said, Bryan you grew up in Italy, you should have known. Restaurants close after the lunch hour. The other side of that is just try to get a meal in Italy before 7:30p.m., it just isn’t possible. The Italians have a lot of rules about when you can eat or at least, when they are willing to serve you.

Day Five (Monday)

French Church
F.Y.I. This is Italy, on Mondays; everything of historical importance is closed.

Piazza Navona is going to the Pigeons
We returned the car to the airport, by now I am getting over getting lost all of the time. We actually navigated to the airport with little to do. I only made two wrong turns along the way but immediately realized that I had tried to apply logic to the situation and was able to rectify my naiveté and apply counter logic to get me back on the correct course. Dropping off the car was painless and we proceeded to the train station at the airport to catch the train to Termi which is the main station in Rome. We arrived at the station, followed the throngs out the front and began our great walking loop of what I consider the must see at least once while in Rome spots.

Campo Dei Fiori
First to Piazza della Republica to see the fountain (Rome for me is and always has been all about its fountains). On the piazza is the church converted from part of the baths of Diocletian called Santa Maria degli Angeli e’ gli Martiri (Santa Maria of the Angles and the Martyrs) which was worked on by Michelangelo and many others. It was pretty spectacular and definitely worth a look. From there we went on to Piazza Barberini (for the fountain) but the flow was reduced from where it should be. On to the Spanish Steps. We approached from above and bummer the church was closed but what a view of the City. Down the steps and past the boat fountain, across to Via Condoti which occasioned an obligatory visit into one of its exclusive stores by Donna who eventually emerged with a package in her hand and a smile on her face. Down a side street called Via Mario Dei Fiori kept us off the larger congested roads and soon we emerged onto the piazza that houses the Fontana di Trevi (another fountain). The fountain was being repaired, no water flowed and a crane was parked to the side. Naturally, no one was working on the fountain. From there down the alleys of Via delle Murate toward the Pantheon. I didn’t go look at the fountain in front of the Panteon, the building is so overwhelming that all else is lost. We did however go to the Tasso D’Oro for a coffee while in the neighborhood. Next, on to Piazza Navona. Mom, the church of the French something was closed, I will try to get back there sometime. Wasn’t there a statue of the Madonna with the dying Christ (like the pieta) on that same street behind Piazza Navona somewhere? I seem to remember old ladies touching the feet when I was a kid. Anyone know where that was?

Arch connects the Pallazzo Farnese across Via Giulia to another Palazzo
In Piazza Navona they are still working on the main fountain a year and a half later if you can believe that. The place was happening as usual. Artists selling their paintings and the cafes and restaurants full of people. We stopped and rested and paid 14€ for two coffees ($21.00) but it was worth it. From there we went past San Andrea della Valle into Largo del Pallaro to see the old house. Donna values the historical importance of this site as well since it is built on top of the theatre of Pompeii (yes, that same Pompeii guy that I mentioned before) where Julius Caesar was assassinated. We went through the metal gates and stopped at that restaurant (whose name escapes me) and asked to be allowed into their basement. There we stood in part of the ruins of the theatre. It was heavy with history and very powerful for both of us. Into the Campo dei Fiori, the market was being disassembled. And on to the Villa Farnese, we sat and rested on one of the fountains. I dragged Donna down the alley to Via Gulia so that I could look at that wall fountain of the face again. We got to see into the back garden of palazzo Farnese from the Via Gulia side and then we went down Via Gulia toward the Ghetto, the Theatro Marcellus and the bus stop to get us back home for the evening. Almost every one of these places had been visited last time we came but I feel the need to reconnect each time I return. By the way, we are already planning when to come next year. Perhaps in June on the way to Greece?