Sunday, June 7, 2009

Roma: Part 2

We are still getting acclimated to the time difference, so sleeping at night isn't really on a schedule yet. We woke up around noon today, which was a nice surprise. We both expected to sleep until 3 o'clock. Neither of us had the foresight to set an alarm. We have remedied that for tonight, as our plan for tomorrow actually requires a little bit of timing.

Paule went to some beach today, but she left us one of the most detailed maps we could have asked for. She took a tourist's fold out map of Rome, drew a red line to mark the route we walked yesterday, and traced her suggested route for today in blue. She also circled several spots along the way for us to see.

Our first stop was a 'breakfast' spot in Testaccio. Italians don't really do breakfast, so generally a breakfast cafe offers espresso or coffee and impostor croissants. We didn't make it there until the early afternoon, so we went for the lunch option. After a little difficulty conversing with the Asians running the Italian cafe, we managed to get the food we wanted - I had a turkey and cheese panino that I thought would have more on it, Johnny had a salami, egg, cheese, and lettuce panino that was exactly what he expected. We sat outside on their 'sidewalk' seating (in the street, but with a barrier separating us from cars). The sandwiches were pretty delicious. No pictures from this cafe.

After this, we set out on our blue-line path to see central Rome. We had no idea what was in store for us. The first area we went to was Trastevere, (trah-STAY-veh-ray - which literally translates to 'across the Tiber [River]), where we meandered through narrow streets full of cars and cafes and apartment buildings. Eventually we found ourselves at a church, St. Cecile I believe. Nothing incredible to report, though it was a pretty impressive structure. We have quickly become desensitized to the average Roman architecture, although it puts to shame most American architecture.

The next stop was the Isola Tibero (it's dark and I can't check the map for spelling, but it is the Tiber Island, don't ask me why Tiber can be 'Tibero' and 'Tavere'). I use stop generously here, as we really just walked across the island and into the Jewish ghetto (officially, Jewish Quarter). Ghetto doesn't mean what you think here. It was actually a really nice neighborhood with an extremely impressive synagogue. I found a shekel on the ground outside of it.

Across from the synagogue was the Portico D'Attavio, a porch built for the then-emperor's wife Attavio. I could be wrong, but I feel like 'porch' lost something in the translation. It is possible that this place was the original fish market, and that Portico actually meant 'port.' Our sources disagree. Regardless, the ruins were beautiful. Nicest porch I've ever seen.

From there, we began to hit square after square. All of Rome is littered (in a good way) with open squares where people congregate. The squares almost always have fountains at their centers. Inside the fountains, you will find either a very Roman sculpture, or an obelisk. These obelisks were brought from Egypt at some point, and there is currently a battle going on to have them all sent back to Egypt (I imagine the Italians pillaged them and they rightfully belong to the Egyptians, though adverse possession might indicate otherwise).

Anyhow, if you check out my Flickr page, you'll get a name associated with each square that I photographed (well enough to be worth posting). It is too dark in here for me to correlate all the photos with the map. My associate is sleeping on the other couch.

Our next major stop was the Pantheon and the Piazza Della Rotonda. The Pantheon is nothing short of amazing. It boasts one spherical room and was built in the 1st century I believe. It's dimensions are what are most amazing. It was built at a time when many people could afford no more than mud huts or even caves, yet its perfection would rival even the most precise American architecture of today. It is exactly as tall as it is wide. An opening at the center of the roof (think chimney in an igloo) is designed and built so perfectly that, although it is probably 30 feet in diameter (rough estimate), the air pressure does not allow any rain to fall in to the building. I am baffled. We have yet to verify the specifics of this feat, but I assure you it is true. The inside is far too ornate to risk water damage. My pictures did not turn out of the inside because it was too dark unfortunately.

However, on another very strange note, I actually ran into a friend in Rome. I was taking snapshots of one of the many piazzas (squares) when I saw a very familiar color - Chicago maroon and burnt orange, the staples of Virginia Tech. I look more closely and realize it is a fraternity brother of mine, Jeff Katz. Small world! I went up and pushed him playfully, giving him a scare until it clicked in his mind who I was. So we chatted, and we all went and got some delicious gelato (I had the 3 gusti--flavor--cone, with pistacchio, mascarpone, and nutella). We parted ways there, as they had just been to the sites we were planning on hitting. He is studying industrial design in Europe and has been going from city to city for the past three weeks.

After a few more piazzas, we found our way to the day's second big score - the Fontana di Trevi, or the Trevi Fountain. This was absolutely gorgeous. It is built to look like a natural stone out-cropping with sculptures adorning it. The one problem was the crowd. It was almost impossible to get near the fountain because there were literally thousands of people milling about. But it was well worth the struggle to push through.

After this, we made our way down to the Piazza del Quirinale. We had no idea of the magnitude of this spot, though we felt something special about it. There were guards dressed in pretty peculiar outfits, comparable to the royal guard at the Scotland Yard. As it turns out, this is the current Presidential manor. The buildings surrounding the square were pretty elegant, though none of my pictures came out very well of them. I did get a few good shots of the statue in the middle, though.

We strayed from the blue-line after this, but shortly discovered the folly of our adventuring. The guide took us to the bottom of the Spanish stairs, but our path took us to the top. So, in order to see them in their full glory, we had to descend the stairs, then ascend them to continue on our journey. At the bottom of the stairs, we were approached by the second person inviting us to a big pub crawl (these are all the rage out here). The first girl was organizing a Coliseum pub crawl--she was Canadian and spoke perfect English; the second girl was part of a Spanish pub crawl--she was Bulgarian and was quick to assume we had never heard of her country, though she did point out that they were the first to join the European Union. We cordially congratulated her for her country's good fortune and humored her attempts to get us to join her on their crawl.

From there, we ventured further north to Pincio ("pinch-EE-oh"), passing the Villa Medici on our way. The Pincio was very pretty, and it offered a spectacular view of central Rome. It also overlooked the Piazza Popolo (spell check), which was impressive but not photogenic. Johnny almost bought a grilled ear of corn from a guy pushing a street cart, but decided against it.

At this point, we admitted exhaustion and decided to cut our walking tour two stops short of completion. The decision was very wise, though, because our final two stops were very near to Vatican City, where we will head in the morning. The final stop on our journey was the Piazza Navona, which was the most impressive of all the piazzas in my opinion. On the way, we passed the Augusta Mausoleum, which was no longer accessible.

P.zza Navona had a large art festival going on. There were two large fountains, and we met a Persian art vendor that was very friendly. She was chatting with Johnny, but things went south when, upon hearing that she was Persian, he asked what country she was from. She cocked her head slightly to the side and said, "Iran?" He acknowledged her answer as interesting news. Then she said "It's famous."


Our abridged journey brought us to a surprised halt as we reached the Campo di Fiori again. We had taken a taxi there the night before and did not realize where exactly it was, so it was a surprise to be standing in the square again and recognizing our surroundings. From there, we again crossed the Tiber. The sun was beginning to go down, and we got what we both considered a very Roman view.

Finally, we were on the home stretch. Our feet and legs were tired, our backs sore. Johnny made the amateur mistake of not charging his camera ahead of time, so it died somewhere around the Pantheon. Bitterness ensued.

But in the end, it was a spectacular walking tour of an even more spectacular city. One day, we will own a house here with a garden terrace on the roof, even if we only visit once every so rarely.

When we got home, we were the only ones here. We rested up a bit, then Sara and Paule arrived (separately) shortly after. We all showered (separately) and then Johnny, Paule and I went to dinner at a small pizzeria in Testaccio. The waiter was very terse, but the food was good. We had fritti as an appetizer, a very Roman treat - fried salted cod, fried rice balls (suppli), and fried zucchini flowers (with anchovies and cheese, which we were unaware of until we tasted them, unfortunately). We had a beer by Moretti called Boffo D'Oro, or the Golden Mustache, which was very good. We also ordered a calzone with egg, cheese, and prosciutto - excellent - and two very thin crusted pizzas. One was broccollini and sausage (don't remember the Italian word), the other prosciutto and mushrooms (funghi). I reluctantly declined dessert.

After dinner, we wandered around Testaccio looking for a place to buy wine. Finally, we found a very shady character sitting outside of a small gelato and baked goods shop with whom Paule struck up conversation. He did not have wine, but knew of a place that did. He said he had to take us there, but someone had to watch his shop. So Johnny stood guard at the gelato stand (unfortunately, he did not have the gumption to acquire any gelato) while the three of us - weird guy, Paule, and myslef - walked half a block to what equates to a DC hot dog stand on the side of the road. He paid Euro 2.50 for a bottle of white, the name of which I now can't remember. We took it back to the apartment and enjoyed it on the terrace.

Now, it is bed time. We have an early morning on Monday. Plans include a trip to Vatican City and a long train ride to Florence to move into our transient home in the Santo Spirito District.

Until then, ciao.

No comments: