Sunday, January 15, 2017

No Complaints Here

The last time I took the train from Rome to Florence I seem to recall it took forever but now there's a high-speed train that takes under an hour and a half.

Unlike that time, the carriage is clean and comfortable and not subdivided into little wooden compartments with two heat settings only: boiling and frigid.

On the train we decided to go to Pisa since we were so close and the family hadn't seen the leaning tower. The town of Pisa turned out to be pretty much a highlight.

I loved the very old little church which was first mentioned in 1061 - who knows how much longer it had been around before that.

We happened upon an exquisite little gothic church on the river and the nearby bridge yielded charming views of the town.

The buildings are all colours!

We had a really good lunch and walked to the tower which I had somehow forgotten was next to a really gorgeous church.

We decided not to climb the tower as it was almost three times as expensive as it had been to climb the dome of St Peters and we didn't really think it would afford three times the value.

Besides, the church was absolutely stunning.

We made it to Florence but had later dinner reservations and my hotel room was boiling so I took a walk before eating.

The Duomo at night was well worth the chill. Alone with my thoughts I could immerse myself in its appreciation: the colour of the marble (white, green and pink), the intricate detailing of the carvings, the mosaics over the entryways - transcendent.

The next day was drizzly which would have been fine (since I had an umbrella) if my shoes hadn't delighted in letting in as much cold water as possible.

The Duomo was very lovely by day too but the inside couldn't even begin to compare to the outside although the octagonal dome was pretty.

Not that we had any (and why not???) but the gelatos were so very deliciously displayed.

We took a walk to the Ponte Vecchio via the Uffizi which we didn't actually visit.

We went to the Mercado Centrale where I had Trippa Fiorentina for lunch. I mean, I think I had to (not that I'm complaining).

All this was just preparation for the main event.


The first time I saw him in 1979 he brought tears to my eyes; the day was bright and the light shining on him through the dome above him seemed to illuminate him from the inside so that he glowed almost as if alive.

I didn't think I'd feel the same way this many decades later.

I did.

The family then insisted on doing one of these room escape things which I didn't refuse to join but kinda sorta wanted to.

Turns out it was decently fun and I'm not as bad as I thought I'd be at deciphering the clues. Without me no one would have solved the three equations that opened the door to the room with the bomb deactivation device.

Supposedly we we did better than most people who found The Bunker "impossible".

We all turned in early when we got back to Rome.

On my last full day my brother and sister-in-law were all Panic Stations about their impending move: after six months in Rome they're returning to Sydney so the boys can finish school but all the housewares and linens they bought in Rome are going to their new apartment in Lisbon (yeah that's another story) so there was packing and organizing to be done, leaving me on my own for the afternoon.

Lunch was at a very lovely restaurant where we were seated in the wine cellar which is much nicer than up on the main floor, and then I made my way to the Coliseum via I dunno, various ruins.

I made it in by fifteen minutes and they didn't start kicking people out until about an hour after closing time so I could amble around at my own pace.

I was very taken with the spots in which the bones of the place are exposed like the huge stones at the top which were covered in bricks.

What can I say? I love ruins.

One of my best vacations ever was three weeks driving around Greece and stopping at every ruin we could find, from the ancient to the merely pretty old.

Sadly I couldn't get into the Forum or Palatine Hill although there were still plenty of ruins to see.

I lay in bed on my last night in Rome, planning the next couple of trips...

Thursday, January 12, 2017

All the Art

I really had not much of an agenda coming to Rome except to spend time with my brother and his family but it's been that and more.

We visited the Ara Pacis at night so you can see the projected overlays on the various bas relief panels.

We walked home via Piazza Navona with its church and fountain.

And stopped for gelato (obviously).

On the way to a day of art, we walked past the cat sanctuary at Sant'Eustachio. Apparently there's an organization which cares for cats and they all seem to end up here in the ruins.

We saw the wonderful Renaissance collection at Villa Borghese although what I really liked were the ceilings and window-frames and other secondary decorations: the faux marble and faux-relief painting mimicking sculptural scrollwork and moulding was so artful, so effective and such a perfect setting for the actual paintings and other artwork.

And for lunch we had The Best Pizza Ever.

Oddly enough they're an international chain and I'd go back in any city. Perfectly pillowy, chewy and slightly crisp crust, just the right amount of toppings (mozzarella, Gorgonzola, dried figs and prosciutto) in just the right proportions. After lunch it was time for the National Gallery of Modern Art at which one of my nephews agreed to join us.

Gorgeous space with a really varied and interesting collection. Turns out I really like all the works by Alberto Burri. There were a few pieces I'd happily hang in my home.

Mostly I just love wandering around Rome - the neighborhood where my brother lives is utterly charming with picturesque alleyways that ate actually streets on which vehicles expect to drive. Small vehicles. Small cars and lots of scooters. Smart cars are everywhere slotted into the tiniest of spaces.

The pedestrians and drivers are equally respectful of and patient with each other. The sidewalks are nonexistent, small or are filled with parked scooters and car bumpers so you walk in the road. The drivers rarely use their horns so you turn and check for cars everyone and again and move over to let them pass when you see them. It's pretty civilized.

I've now been there long enough to recognize some of the neighborhood fixtures like the handyman swaddled with tookbelts and encrusted with piercings, always in shorts no matter how cold.

Yesterday we crossed the bridge on the way to the Vatican Museum, both nephews in tow, complaining vociferously (actually the seventeen year old was fine; it required all three adults to get the fourteen year old out of the house).

Honestly I could happily have spent more time staring at the Sistine Chapel ceiling. The first time I saw it was before the 1980 restoration when it was still dark and almost monochromatic and the second time was partway through the restoration when some of those dull browns had given way to the sunlight-bright pastels and skin tones. Yesterday all was bright and colorful and gorgeous but I really did love seeing the contrast during the restoration.

And then we made the boys climb (with us) to the top of the dome of St. Peter's.

The first two hundred and forty-seven stairs take you up inside the cathedral where you can see that most of the paintings on the ceiling and the upper walls are actually exquisitely fine mosaics.

The last three hundred and four steps are in the walls of the dome so the walls in the stairwell are slanted; very disconcerting.

The view from the top is pretty magnificent though and for the most part the steps are shallow enough that your legs don't get sore or tired; it's just the lack of air that I found difficult trying to keep up with my very talk and very thin sister-in-law and nephews. Plus they're all a lot younger than me...

We had to have a look at "the dudes" on the way down. You can see their backs in the view from the top.

There are a few very small doors in the stairwell that leads back down into the cathedral. That's the fourteen year old. He's well under six feet. I think the doorway must be for gnomes who take care of the dome. Dome Gnomes.

The interior really is over-the-top impressive. In a bad way if you want to go that way but impressive nonetheless.

On the way out we had another view of the dudes.

The Tiber was perfectly still as we crossed the bridge at the end of the day.

Back home to the 'hood.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Rome is Having a Cold Snap

Not that I'm complaining bitterly or anything - after all, it's Rome.

There was a lot of hanging around the airport (as there is all too often) as my flight got more and more delayed but you know, I'm here so that's all irrelevant.

My brother and his family lucked out with their apartment: it's a fourteenth century building that was a palace for some Vatican dignitary that has since been converted into apartments.

The street view is unremarkable but it gets better once inside.

My bedroom is accessed via an extraordinarily narrow and winding staircase off the kitchen which is just big enough for one person, barely big enough for a person plus a small carry-on. Apparently it used to be servants quarters.

The ceiling is rather lovely, as is the view of the courtyard from my window.

The ceilings on the main floor are so high that when this apartment was converted they were able to add a second floor so my nephews have their own private space: bedrooms, a common desk area and bathroom reached by floating metal and glass stairs and a glass-bottomed hallway which is rather disconcerting.

There are huge rooms with incredible art on the walls: a Caravaggio and some large canvases which were frescoes (supposedly by Raphael or his school) that the Vatican transferred to canvas a decade or two ago and rehung on the walls.

It's really not too shabby except that the heat keeps going out and temperatures are below freezing.

This morning I went along with my brother and sister-in-law to do grocery shopping. I kinda find foreign grocery stores fascinating and this one did not disappoint.

The meat and cheese section was at least a quarter of the store and it was wonderful.

I was delighted (and more than somewhat envious) that you can buy sheets of fresh pasta to make your own tortellini or ravioli or cannelloni or lasagne or whatever. I'd be all over that if I lived here.

And the peppers! Large, delicious and gorgeous.

Twice as much yoghurt as at my local supermarket at home, and this wasn't the only yoghurt section.

Ive been to Rome a few times and have done all the tourist stuff so it's all the same if I do it or don't - the only thing on my agenda is to spend time with my brother and his family. And to not be cold all the time.