Monday, August 21, 2006

August 2006 - Rome, Italy - Capitol Hill

On our way home from a horrid trip (via tram, bus, and subway) to the mall in the Roman suburbs (in search of reasonably priced household goods), we stopped by Il Campidoglio, also known as the Capitoline and Capital Hill to once again soak up the beautiful views on another gorgeous day in Rome.

Here, you are looking up La Cordonata - Michelangelo's glorious staircase that gently rises and widens up to La Piazza del Campidolglio (the Capitol Square) - one of the most impressive squares in Rome. The building in the center with the tower is the Palazzo Senatorio, which used to house the Roman Senate and now is the office of Rome's mayor. Flanking this palazzo are the Palazzo Nuovo (left) and Palazzo dei Conservatori (right), comprising the Capitoline Museums, which house many of Rome's greatest ancient Classical, Renaissance, and Baroque treasures. In addition to designing and sculpting the embellishments of the staircase, Michelangelo designed the square itself and the facades of the three palazzos.
Here's a closeup of one of the two restored Classical statues of the Dioscuri - Castor and Pollux -that stand on pedastals at the top of the bannisters of Michelangelo's staircase, towering over you as you enter the square (looks a little Davidesque to me).And, here's a replica of the remarkable 2nd Century A.D. bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, perched atop a pedestal designed, of course, by Michelangelo. The original, which is now incased in glass in the Palazzo Nuovo, survived the inquisition's destruction of all things pagan, including classical masterpieces such as this, only because the horseman was thought to depict Constantine, the Roman Emperor who issued the Edict of 313 A.D., which legalized Christianity. Here is the symbol of Rome - the She-Wolf suckling Remus and Romulus (the founder of Rome). Sitting atop a tall Ionic column, this is a replica of the Etruscan bronze statute dating from the early 5th century B.C. that is on display in the Palazzo dei Conservatori. From the ledge just beyond the column holding the She-Wolf, we got a truly awesome view of the entire Roman Forum in the valey between the Capitoline and Palatine hills.Here you can see the vestiges of ancient Roman Fora and Temples to the Gods. And here's the Arch of the Emperor Trajan.

There were also great views to the west from Capital Hill. Here's just one of the many domes of the city framed by some umbrella pines in the foreground.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

August 2006 - Rome, Italy - Kitties Everywhere

For all the crazy cat ladies in my life . . .

Here are some pictures of kitties all around Rome. As you can see, the city really values its population of feral cats which number as many as 300,000 living in 10,000 colonies.

Here is a kitty in front of Trevi Fountain.

Another kitty in front of Castel St. Angelo and the bridge by the same name.

Kitties are most commonly spotted at the ancient ruins. Here are some that reside at the Colosseum and at the Roman Forum. And below is a kitty at Torre Argentina where Julius Caesar was murdered. These ruins have been converted into a cat sanctuary.

The cats at Torre Argentina are spayed and neutered and cared for by the gattare (crazy cat ladies in Italian).Our favorite kitty of all is the fat cat that lives in the stair well of our building. Everyone feeds her and it shows. She is very friendly and always begging for attention.

Hey, fat girls need lovin' too!!

August 2006 - Rome, Italy - Outdoor Activities

Drinking from public fountains . . .

a Roman past-time and the only way to survive this city in the summer. Apparently there is a natural spring under Rome that provides an endless flow to the countless fountains scattered through out the city. Another popular way to stay out of the heat is to seek refuge under the towering umbrella pines that fill the lush Borghese Gardens. The wealthy Romans, cardinals and popes of the 15th and 16th centuries built their palazzos on the hill that is now Borghese Gardens (named after it's most famous palazzo - Villa Borghese which is now one of the greatest galleries in Europe and one of the first museums in existence). This hill provided cool breezes and relief from the mosquitoes that brought an epidemic of malaria to the lower lying areas of historic Rome.

Villa Borghese contains beautiful Renaissance style gardens featuring classical sculptures from ancient Greek and Roman times.Borghese Gardens is also a wonderful place to have a picnic. All you need is a big blanket, a shady tree, fresh fruit from Campo de' Fiori and homemade philly cheesesteaks (they're italian, right?).

August 2006 - Vatican City - St. Peter's Basilica

Check out some of these pictures of what's inside St. Peter's Basilica, which hardly do it justice.

The interior of the Dome (left) and Michelangelo's "Pieta" (above). Michelangelo was the architect of the Dome but didn't live to see it's completion.

Resting underneath the Dome is Bernini's bronze Baldacchino (above), crowning the papal altar (right) which sits above St. Peter's tomb (right). The basilica's high altar and St. Peter's throne are in the background (above).

When we left the Basilica and walked down the steps, we were greeted by two Swiss Guards, wearing the very uniform that Michelangelo designed (no joke! - this guy had a hand in everything.) Here's one last look at the Basilica's facade (so big you can't even see the Dome from a football field away!).

August 2006 - Vatican City

This week, we went apartment hunting with our best broken Italian.

We took a walk across Ponte Sisto to our new language school - Scuola Leonardo Da Vinci - to register. Here's a picture of Casandra in the square in front our school.
Then, we headed north and almost immediately saw Castello de Sant'Angelo in the distance.

We crossed Ponte Sant'Angelo - the most beautiful bridge in Rome - designed by Michelangelo - and then just hung out in front of the castle.

Looming over us to the west was the gargantuan and imposing St. Peter's Basilica. So, we decided to head into Vatican City for a leisurely visit.

For a while, we just hung out on the steps of the huge obelisk in the dead center of Bernini's magnificent Piazza di San Pietro, surrounded almost completely by multiple rows of colossal columns.
Then, seeing there was no line to enter St. Peter's Basilica, we ventured inside. Words can't really describe what you see when you step inside the largest and most lavish church in Christiandom.

Monday, August 14, 2006

August 2006 - Rome, Italy - Day 7

We spent most of the day working on formatting our blog. In the evening, we went for a walk and discovered a wonderful Korean restaurant called Kio Rio. The Korean food was even better than in Korean town in Manhattan. Kenny and I are thrilled to have this little jewel right on San Cosimato square across from our apartment. We were also thrilled to be the only non-Koreans in the restaurant. Imagine eating in a restaurant in Rome that is packed with Korean people speaking Korean.
What a great break from everything Italian! Of course we took an after dinner stroll to Trastevere's center square - Piazza Santa Maria - and ate gelato for dessert. As a result of the August holidays (Ferie Agosto), our neighborhood is jumping even on Sundays at midnight. We're still not sure what they're celebrating but it seems like a good excuse to close everything and party everyday.

Here is a shot of some performance artists (2 girls from Barcelona with a boom box and a helmet) with little talent but a lot of spirit doing their thing at the Piazza Santa Maria.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

August 2006 - Rome, Italy - Day 6

Our luggage arrives just in time for our first Saturday night baby!!! We get all dolled up and hit the town. we strolled from Trastevere all the way to Piazza del Popolo (located at the southern end of Borghese park pedestrianized oval square with a centered ancient Egyptian obelisk taken by Augustus when he conquered Egypt 2,000 years ago and 2 neo-classical domed churches on either side as you enter the piazza) and through the shopping district on Via Babuino.

We followed our noses and discovered a small traditional restaurant (Ristorante Edy) located on a small side street. It appears that Edy's son runs the restaurant as he unenthusiastically sat us and took our order. That's why Edy comes out of the kitchen every 5 minutes and checks on you. Her clothes are stained with sauce and her hair is messily pulled back but she still does rounds in the restaurant and checks up on her son. Then they bark orders at each other. Edy like a classic Italian mother reveres her son and vice versa, but she has to check up on him. As we have learned here, people believe that Jesus must have been an italian man because his mother believed he was God, he believed his mother was a virgin and he lived at home with her until he was 30. Edy's food tasted completed homemade and dessert - a warm ricotta cheescake with dollops of chocolate - was a wonderful eating experience.

After dinner, we strolled through the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona and Campo dei Fiori on our way back to Trastevere over the Ponte Sisto.

All of the squares and the bridge were full of people of all ages strolling, drinking and talking.

We ended the night with a drink at a Brazilian bar in our neighborhood which is quite the hot spot. As we sat outside we witnessed the Vigili di Fuoco (fire men) in action. They cruised down the narrow street in a calm manner as onlookers squeezed themselves against the sides of the buildings to let the truck through, then they jumped out of the truck and slowly put on their fire fighting suits, strolled around the building looking for a fire as the five-alarms blared , gave up, climbed back into the fire truck and smoked a couple of cigarettes before heading back to the station.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

August 2006 - Rome, Italy - Day 5

Today we waited for our luggage most of the day and surprise surprise our Italian courier failed to deliver it as promised. We consoled ourselves by having lunch at Trastevere's most famous panini shop (it doesn't really have a name or a sign outside but everyone knows where it is). Only in Italy can a bakery dedicate itself to making only one kind of bread and still sell 1,000 loaves per day. This famous shop has quite a line and unlike everything else in Italy the line moves very quickly. No time for indecisiveness or questions in broken italian, but the chances of making a bad choice seem slim. The pannini with prosciutto and fresh mozzarella and the pannini with stewed tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and arugula are absolutely delicious. On our way home we discover a little spa with the sweetest Italian girls working and gossipping with everyone that stopped by. As I waited to have my eyebrows done, we introduced ourselves and asked all about the nightlife of Trastevere. The girls screamed and giggled about us being from Miami (apparently a dream destinantion for young italian women). Kenny has decided he must go back next week after the August holidays and have a massage.

In the evening we explored our lively, colorful neighborhood a bit. We went to dinner at a local traditional Roman restaurant owned by an Egyptian guy that goes by "Tony." There is a huge immigrant population in Rome. We expected this city to be homogenous but it is not at all. Most immigrants appear to be from India, Pakistan, Africa and China. All the same, Tony runs an amazing restaurant (Hosteria del Moro da Tony) with great prices, fabulous gnocchi and fresh fish.

We loved the impromptu live music provided tableside by this interesting trio.

We made friends with Ferdinando and Alberto who were sitting at the table next to us planning their weekend trip to the shore.

All Romans seem to head for the shore at Ostia this weekend. Of course, they invited us to come along and stay in Ferdinando's parents home . . . the Italians are incredibly warm.

Friday, August 11, 2006

August 2006 - Rome, Italy - Day 4

In what has become our travel uniform - still no luggage from Iberia (boycott!) - we get an early start at exploring our new neighborhood. We began our day with authentic roman pastries and caffe lattes for breakfast at the quaint Antica Cafeteria across from our apartment in Trastevere. We love to watch the older romans linger for hours at a table with a small tazza di caffe as they talk to each other and passerbys. We took a long walk stopping to snack on fresh fruit and italian ice at Campo de Fiori's open air market.

This is also a great spot to shop for spices from all over the world.

Next we walked through the high end shopping district on Corso Vittorio Emanuelle up and around the monument to the beautiful and trendy neighborhood of Monti located just north of the Colosseum (via Urbana is our favorite street in the area). We stopped to see the magnificent church Santa Maria di Maggiore. We continued east walking by the park at Piazza Vittorio and discovering a huge shopping mall at the Termini train station. Too tired to continue walking, we hopped in a cab and let him drive us home the long way circling nearly every major site for only nine euro. In an attempt to avoid getting sick of italian food, we had dinner at Planet Kebab - the 24-hour falafel house on our block (truly a novelty in Rome and quite yummy).

Thursday, August 10, 2006

August 2006 - Rome, Italy - Day 3

This morning we discovered that we can access a neighbor's wireless internet conection from our apartment, so we pirated on that connection for an hour and caught up on emails.

Then, in the same clothes (fresh after Casandra's expert handwashing), we headed out to lunch in our neighborhood and ended up at Taverna della Scala - across from where we had dinner last night. Our friendly waiter made up for laughing at our Italian by buying us Limoncello shots.

After lunch, we walked along the west bank of Tiber and crossed Ponte Mazzini into the historic center toward Campo de'Fiori and visited our new Italian language school right in the middle of the historic center of town! Then, we walked 3 blocks north to the ever-bustling Piazza Navona (the longest and busiest square in the city),

then east to the Pantheon, and on Trevi Fountain again. All four squares are minutes from each other on foot.

After leaving Trevi, we discovered, down Via della Pilota, a beautiful narrow street that contains 4 walking bridges linking the grand Palazzo Colonna to its terraced gardens.

We caught a shot of the facade of the magnificent Palazzo

and then headed west to Piazza Venezia and the obnoxious "Wedding Cake"(disliked by the Romans because it is built on top of 1 acre of priceless ancient ruins). We took a break in the middle of the Piazza and enjoyed great views of the many domes of Rome at sunset and the whirling traffic.

On our way home we passed Teatro di Marcello built by Julius Caesar and his nephew, the 1st Emperor Octavian/Augustus,

and three ancient columns remaining from the Temple of Apollo.

Then crossing the 2000 year old Ponte Fabricio (62 BC - the oldest functional bridge in Rome) onto Isola Tiberini (built around 4th Century BC), we passed the 10th Century church San Bartolomeo all'Isola (built by Otto over the Temple to God of Medicine Aesculapius 293 BC).

We are mesmerized by the sunset views from the bridges crossing the Tiber. Expect a lot of pictures like these.