Sunday, July 10, 2016

A room with a view 2 (Rome: June 2016)

27.6 Montefalco – Rome

On the platform, heading for Rome.
Arriving at the bus stop we again meet the German backpacker, and commiserate about the dearth of buses and bus information – seems that everyone drives! But the bus arrives on time, and we have plenty of time for the train.

By the time we get to Rome the train is packed to the luggage racks, and it takes around 15 minutes to offload and walk from the distant platform to the exterior of the enormous station. Everything looks filthy, with rubbish strewn around and overflowing from bins. We wade through it for half an hour, to the apartment, and it gradually improves. Casa Letran is in a shabby-looking building with a creaky, shabby lift, but Alessandro meets us at the door, and the apartment is light, spacious, beautifully renovated and decorated, with smooth, cool terrazzo floors. We pay rental and deposit, and are left to admire the amazing view over San Giovanni in Laterano, the Arch-Basilica and cathedral of Rome. Fabulous!

The local streets are packed with little convenience stores, each seemingly selling the same things. Find a larger one that has a more extensive selection of deli items, fresh meat and wine, and they are very patient as we stumble through our shopping list … meat, cheese, bread, pasta, olives, coffee, milk … Next door, we find a small selection of salad and fruit, and we are set. For dinner – figs and gorgonzola, fettucine with sausages and tomatoes, with Orvieto Classico (white) wine.

Rome apartment - our windows circled
Bedroom 1 in apartment
View from bedroom - Santa Scala and San Giovanni in Laterano

28.6 Rome

A slow start after a long breakfast, coffee, and some research in Lonely Planet on a Rome itinerary. Try to book at Galleria Borghese but it is booked out for the next two days. We are only 10-15 minute walk from the Colosseum, Forum and Palatino, so it seems practical to start there. On the way, our first Roman church – San Clemente – a cool dim sanctuary on what is already a hot, crowded day. It is of interest as there are several churches piled atop each other – from Pagan temple to 4th C and then 12th C church. But we forgo the archeological tour as the day is disappearing.

The crowds increase until we arrive at the Colosseum, wow! It’s crazy, and full of large tour groups – no way are we going in there! Instead we head for the Musei Capitolini – it’s a good decision, the museum is a lovely cool environment with sparse crowds and great views over the Forum and Palatino. There is no way we will be able to see all of their collections, but we begin on the pinacoteca (painting floor), and half way through are ready for lunch. The café is closed for renovation, and we are directed to an outside café, which turns out to be a tiny hole-in-the-wall churning out good cheap coffee, panini and salads. We throw down coffee, then find a quiet spot in what looks like the museum box office to share a mozzarella and tomato panino.

The museum has antiquities and sculptures, paintings and miscellanea. We can’t get to all of it! We never get back to the pinacoteca … it is enough for one day! We walk home through the still hot and busy streets, marvelling at the antiquities scattered around like discarded rubble. Grab some pickled calamari to go with our pasta tonight.

Colosseum - without crowds ...
... and with crowds 
Cool, calm Capitolini Museum
From Capitolini - view over Forum and Palatino

29.6 Rome

We want to check out the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano, across the road, before the tourist hordes descend. Turns out it is a religious festival/public holiday today so they have extra services. We get twenty minutes before ushers rope off the apse and other areas in preparation for a mass. But we do get a good look at the giant ‘Marvel comic’ figures of apostles, created by the pre-eminent sculptors of Rome following the 17th century renovation of the cathedral by Borromini. It’s a stunning space, with an amazing history dating from Roman times, and we will return later. (It was founded by Constantine at the site of a Roman palace in AD313, and is the model for all Christian basilicas, but has had many makeovers, one of which removed most of the early 14th C Giotto frescoes).

Then walking in the same direction as yesterday, via the Colosseum to the Doria Pamphili Palazzo/Gallery. On the way we happen upon the Chiesa del Gesu – the main Jesuit church in Rome, housing the remains of founder Ignatius Loyola. Wow, the frescoes by Il Baciccia are magnificent, and this one was not even on our radar. The churches here really are on another level in size, majesty and decoration. How awestruck peasant pilgrims must have been!

The Doria Pamphili is a really engaging museum experience. The entrance ticket includes audio guide, which usually I avoid as I find them more distracting than informative, but this one is really essential, telling the story of the Doria and Pamphili families, the politics of the time, and the provenance of some of the artwork. But they also have some amazing pieces of art without any additional information other than name of artist and work. Frustrating! The palazzo itself is beautifully restored, with the art displayed as it would have been in its heyday. There are private apartments here where the family still lives. We have a small (and overpriced) lunch in the café – not a patch on yesterday’s hole-in-the-wall.

We take some detours going home and get lost wandering through parks relying on a sketchy tourist map (our usual saviour, Google maps, has given up today). Finally orientate ourselves, and make a final visit to S G in L, marvelling at the frescoes and the amazing Vasarely-like floors. Then home for a final Roman feast of eggplant and gorgonzola frittata, leftover pasta with calamari and anchovies, and a panzanella salad of stale bread and tomatoes (better than it sounds!). We have loved staying here! And will be sad to leave.

Marvel superhero Apostle - St. Philip by Mazzuoli
St Giovanni in Laterano, Vasarely-style floor
Doria Pamphili Palazzo Gallery - hall of mirrors 
Evening view from our window

30.9 Going home

Clean up, and take a few photos of this lovely apartment, one of our favourite stays, then we are on the metro and train to the airport. Worst coffee in Italy! Then on our way to Hong Kong in our comfy premium economy seats. Watch ‘Vinyl’, a music-oriented series produced by Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger – it’s fab! Arriving in HK at 6am, we are too exhausted for the planned day trip around the island, and instead spend 18 hours languishing in air-conditioned blandness waiting for our midnight flight. It’s an experience. Are airports the cities of the future? Horrible thought, rather by far the griminess and crowds of Rome! We console ourselves with some nice Chinese food (roast goose, braised pork and LOTS of green veg), and expensive beer (around $30AU for 2 beers!) and finally are on the last leg back to Sydney.

Room with a view - HK Airport

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