Ancient Roma

We left Bernini’s Dutch damaged Fontana della Barcaccia (Fountain of the Ugly Boat) below the Spanish Steps.

And retreated back into the Metro to Colosseo. I had been here before with Damon in my youth but we were too cheap to buy a ticket and go in. So we just walked around the outside before heading to the Forum (which in the late 80s/early 90s I think may have been free). I was really looking forward to seeing the Colosseum up close and from the inside.

Tawny and I got in a long line but then realized we had bought Roma Passes which would allow us to skip the line. We headed inside ahead of the masses and hoards, much as the Senators, Vestal Virgins, and other Roman Elites may have done in ancient times. But when we got to the turnstiles our Roma passes were denied and we were sent to another window (short line) to pay a reduced fee. Confused (because we thought our Roma passes would allow us into 2 historic sites or museums) we appealed to the woman in the ticket booth that we had only used our passes at the Borghese Gallery and should have a free entrance to the Colosseum. She agreed with us and went to investigate and confirm with others. Ultimately the verdict was a thumbs down. We had bought the wrong Roma Pass which only included 1 entry. However, it had allowed us to skip an hours long line, pay a reduced fee, and gain quick entry into the Colusseum. Let the games begin:




We plugged ourselves into Rick Steves’ Colosseum tour and fumbled ourselves around the huge stadium in search of the talking point. The views and the stories transported us back into the horror shows and spectical of ancient Roman bloodlust.



After leaving the Colosseum and haggling with vendors over trinkets and momentoes we stood in line for the Forum and Palantine Hill. I remember having gone here with Damon before, but couldn’t imagine we paid for anything. Now there were baggage checks and ticket checks (our Coluseum ticket gaining us entranace) while Rick Steves continued to enlighten us to the sorted history of Roma, its early temples and as the center of commerce and corruption at the hight of the Roman empire.








We strolled through the Forum and Palantine hill before walking outside the ruins and into side streets of Rome in search of lunch near the Capitoline Museums. Unfortunately our feet and thirst gave out at a touristy spot to rest but had a decent Neopolitan pizza and bierra that offset the smell of the sewer vent nearby.

From there we walked down the nearby ally way of Via del Seminario Loyola towards the Pantheon and took a quick side trip into a rather non-discript chruch in front of a small piazza of the alleyway looking for a bathroom. To our surprise we walked into the Chisea di Sant ‘Ignazio di Loyola which houses specatacular perspective frescos and optical illusions painted into the ceilings. But while no bathroom was to be found it was a welcome discovery. But too dark inside to get good pictures.

A few hundred feet further along was the Pantheon. Rick Steves walked us through the history of this amazing architectural masterpiece.




We walked from there through back streets (still looking for a bathroom) to the Trevi Fountain. While it was unfortunate that the fountain was under repair and largely covered by scafolding and drained, the upside was we so desperately needed use of a bathroom we weren’t unduly biologically influenced by a gushing fountain of suggestion.


We hopped a taxi back to our hotel and made reservations at a restaurant suggested by one of the Faculty of our daughter’s school…someplace they had eaten earlier in the week and where we might have dinner prior to picking her up before her classmates headed to the airport. The restaurant was Il Ristorante Peperoncino D’Oro and was very good. We were impressed with the challenging menu – Rabbit, Pigeon, Scorpionfish, etc and couldn’t have imagined our 8th grader and her friends had eaten here. But they did, as did we, and ordered many of the same things. Tawny had vermicelloni pasta with fresh lobster, tomato, and basil. I had paccheri pasta with Scorpionfish threads, tomatoes, capers and fried eggplant. We accompanied with Rome artichokes and a crostini w/a spicy pepper spread which was fantastic. Unfortunately the sauces for us each where extremely salty and while the flavor was good it was just too salty to eat too much and we were running late. We needed to go pick up our daughter at 8:30 so we cut our meal short and left food (but not wine) on the table.

We headed out of the restaurant to walk to the rental rooms for the school and ran into the school principal. He said the kids were still out to dinner and probably an hour away from finishing. So we joined him nearby at a restaurant where he was getting a bite to eat. He was on a break from taking care of several sick children on the trip. Apparently something had been passing through the kids (stomach virus) which Clara had just before leaving for the trip (as did several of her friends) and which Tawny got just as we left Seattle. The faculty had spent the week taking shifts and looking after the sick kids. He looked exhausted but we had a pleasant time hearing about their week of adventures and misadventures before collecting our daughter and sneaking her back into our hotel for a night. The next morning were would be heading out to visit our friends Tom and Heather in Spoleto.

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Roma Riots

When we first arrived in Rome Tawny wasn’t feeling well so I lit out to explore the city winding my way down from the Borghese Gardens area to the Spanish Steps and Bernini’s Fontana della Barcaccia (Fountain of the Ugly Boat) fountain the the Spagna Piazza just below the steps.

Since Tawny had missed the Steps the first night I suggested we visit them after the Vatican since we had to disembark at the Spagna metro stop anyway to get back to our hotel.

We wandered out from the station to the Piazza Spagna into a sea of bottles and broken glass strewn across the cobblestones and hoards of drunken Dutch Feyenoord futbol fans. Dozens upon dozens of them where standing against the wall of the corridor to the piazza Spagna literally pissing a great yellow river that was running down into the piazza and puddling into pools along the uneven cobblestone street. We hugged the Northern wall (which still had a swath of cobbles above the flow of piss) and made our way into the piazza. As we turned towards the Steps and Fountain it became clear (if it hand’t already) that we were not in a safe place. That became more evident as the riot police arrived. Tawny suggested we get save the Steps for another time and get the Hell outta there. I looked to my right and recognized a street our taxi had driven down earlier that day. “We can go this way around and get to the top of the Steps to look down and see what’s happening.

We hiked up the steep road and into a stair case to come out upon the back side and top of the steps where we could hear clinking bottles, drunken dutch singing futbol songs, and police barking orders from behind a barrier of riot shields in formation to keep the Dutch from ascending the steps while police helicopters flew overhead.

We must have left before the Rome Riots started and made international news. Because it was getting dangerous I put my camera away in my bag to keep a low profile so I don’t have many pictures to share (click the link above to see images of the riots and arrests).

We made our way to our tour of the Borghese Gallery and eventually back to our hotel about 6pm. We went to the rooftop bar and thought we’d have a glass of wine. But at 6:05 they told us “Sorry, we can no longer serve wine. The city has been put on a city wide restriction to serving alcohol until Midnight because of the Dutch Hooligans”. “What?”. We went to the lobby and were talking to the concierge who told us that the police had come to tell the hotel to no longer serve any drinks. He told us our dinner reservation would probably also not be able to serve us. As we explored our diminishing options for enjoying a fine glass of Italian red on our vacation a pair of American’s approached us to announce they had just purchased two bottles of wine at a wine shop down the street which appeared to either not know of the temporary prohibition or was blatantly ignoring it.

The next morning we headed to the Spanish Steps and Fontana della Barcaccia to see the damage before heading to the Coliseum. Throngs of Italians had come out to see the damage to their beloved and recently restored Bernini fountain as well as the news media. The fountain had been drained, baracaded, and experts had been brought in to survey the damage.







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Lunch w/Romeo & Borghese Gallery

Post our Vatican tours and in need of sustenance to power us through jet-lag and into the afternoon tour of the Borghese Gallery we headed through backstreets off the tourist beaten path and find a good place to eat. To our surprise we found Romeo Chef & Baker, a modern twist on Italian cuisine. There we had a few delicious micro brews, a buffalo mozzarella with prosciutto, and gnocchi on pecorino fondue with fried artichokes. It was rich and fantastic and well deserved after the 12K+ steps my Fitbit had registered that morning.






After lunch we took the subway back to Spagna and got out to see the Spanish Steps before walking back to our hotel (The Grand Flora). Upon entering the piazza we saw a scene of near riot (another blog post to come) with Dutch football fans disrespecting the famous Roman landmark.

We quickly got ourselves out of there before things became dangerous and headed through the Borghese Gardens to the Borghese Gallery to see a few Bernini statues we had heard about. They were incredible.

Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne with Daphne turning into a laurel before your eyes had motion and transformation carved into marble with intricacy and detail that was hard to believe.


Bernini’s other master work of Pluto and Proserpine was also spectacular. With the weight and pressure of his hand wrapped around her and pressing into her flesh made the marble seem soft and pliable and, well…fleshy.


We were also impressed by Canova’s carving of Paolina Borghese in repose on a marble mattress so detailed you could see the sense the weight of her body pressing down into the mattress which was hard to imagine as marble.



There were many paintings (most of them titled “Adoration of the Bambino” and equally “Madonna & Bambino”) as well as paintings by Caravaggio and Raphael.


But most impressive to me were the detailed mosaics.



After the gallery we headed back to our hotel for a glass of vino only to be denied. Two hours earlier, because of riots from futbol fans across Rome (mostly drunken Dutch) all alcohol sales across Rome had been suspended. But that’s a story for another blog entry to come. Instead we headed out to Piazza Navona and to a restaurant recommended by a friend (which was great btw) called Osteria Del Pengo (where it was too dark and intimate to take any pictures of the food).

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Don’t Forget to Look Up

When my friend Damon and I went for the weekend in Rome from Cortona in the summer of 1990 we had no guide books, no smartphones, and no clue. We wandered off the train and most likely into the nearest bar (we were 19) and then lit out across the city. We somehow found our way to the Colleseum, the Forum, Trevi Fountain, and the Vatican.

It was summer. It was hot. I remember waiting in the queue to get into the Vatican for what seemed hours only to be pulled aside by the fashion police and told that our shorts were not allowed inside. It was like 95 degrees and we were made to put on these pajama pants over our shorts if we wanted to continue in. Begrudgingly we complied and grumbling under our breadth we entered. Not being Catholic we really didn’t know what we were walking into. As we entered I was overwhelmed and quite frankly disgusted with the wealth and opulence of the place. We took a very quick look around and decided to leave in a huff.

Upon arriving back in Cortona my parents asked what we had done. We told them about our experience at the Vatican and that we left in a hurry. “Did you look up?” my mother asked. “Huh?” I said (the way only a 19 year old could). “For what?”. ” For the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam” my mother said. Disappointedly we admitted we didn’t.

So all these years I believed I had walked into the Sistine Chapel and forgot to look up. Its been a good story of mine, the kind you pass on to your kid and has become family lore. Today I realized that I had never been to the Sistine Chapel but had instead walked in and nearly immediately out of Saint Peter’s Basilica.

With online reservations allowing us to skip the line we headed first to the Vatican Museum and which culminates with a trip to the Sistine Chapel. Upon entering I clearly new I never been here before. It would be impossible to enter this sacred space without looking up. Photography isn’t allowed so I snuck this photo with my iPhone to prove to Mom I was there.


We made our way through meandering tour groups and endless halls of Vatican treasures and spoils, and back to Saint Peter’s Square to get in the queue.



The line moved reasonably fast and it was only 60 degrees, so a sunny but cool and comfortable wait. And this time I wore pants.




Once in side we took our time. While the opulence and extravagance still offended my secular sensibilities I could appreciate and admire this masterpiece of architecture, symbolisim, and history. Its pretty stunning. And just to make sure I didn’t miss anything I made sure I looked up repeatedly.





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All Roads Lead to Rome

Our daughter’s school does an annual pilgrimage to Rome to round out their Latin program. We had for years talked about meeting her in Rome after her school trip and taking her to see some other European sites.

I had been in Rome with I was 19 with a friend from high school. It was a short side trip away from my parents and their vacation in Italy one summer in the early 90s. Although I had been here, my wife had not. She had spent her time in Italy backpacking around Italy and Spain to other points of interest such as Venice, and Barcelona in the late 80s.

We had each been to Venice before but figured that was a good place to take our daughter before it becomes the next Atlantis. And as I had never been to Spain or Barcelona my wife insisted we make that part of our trip and thus our itinerary was born.

Months ago we booked our flight with many a saved frequent flier mile and took a convoluted (but business class) road to Rome. Seattle>Detroit>Paris>Rome. With the layovers included it was 26 hours from door to door.

Along the way we noticed somebody and their entourage getting their pictures taken with the flight crew on the tarmac before we boarded our plane.


It turned out to be Jean Dujardin (from The Artist and The Wolf of Wall Street fame).


Jean Dujardin (left) and his father (right)

We eventually reached Rome. And after being ripped off by our taxi driver over charging us for our ride from the airport we found ourselves in a spacious room with an unfortunate view of a brick wall.


View from room 301 Marriott Grand Flora Hotel

We then ventured out into the streets of Rome to discover a quaint little Italian restaurant named Il Giardino di Albino where we tried our first Sardinian wine, a rigatoni in gorgonzola, a generous serving of prosciutto and melon, and a tonnarelli funghi (with porchini, bacon and peccorino cheese). Fabulous dinner before total collapse and 12 hours of sleep.





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