An Adventure A Day

Because "life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all" – Helen Keller

Friday Fotos: Wanderlust

April 28, 2017


April brings with it quite a few long weekends in Italy. We took advantage of one of those and headed south to visit the Sassi di Matera in Basilicata. It was an amazing four days, which I will share in detail eventually. I’ll leave you with just a taste today – maybe just enough to satisfy a bit of wanderlust.

You can see what has inspired others wanderlust at the Daily Post

Friday Fotos: Earth

April 21, 2017


Spring in Germany is a glorious time of year. The well-tended gardens are beginning to blossom, the trees are beginning to flower and the window boxes are beginning to bloom. The entire countryside is awash in color. One of our favorite things on earth is exploring the German countryside in the Spring. In Germany the paths are well-marked and well-groomed, and a perfect place to spend a beautiful spring day, basking in the warmth and beauty of the earth.

“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”   Henry David Thoreau

This week WordPress is taking a look at Earth you can find other interpretations here.

What is it that creates a home when home is continuously changing?

It is the sense of comfort, the material safety of being surrounded by the things and people who provide continuity from one place to another.

In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie, she remarks that “it was nice to be living in a house again” after Pa builds a fireplace and Ma places a small china statue on the mantle. The small statue is one of the few possessions they’ve managed to bring with them from the little house in the big woods. With the small statue visible in the glow of the warm fire, surrounded by her family, Laura feels as if she is home at last.

My house never feels like a home until the books are unpacked and shelved. Boxes of books are not the lightest things to move, and sadly not all of the books I read find a spot on my permanent shelf. An exception to this is the Trixie Belden series of books. These were the first books I absolutely fell in love with as a child and rereading them transports me back to the carefree days of childhood. It evokes that feeling of warmth and security you hold close knowing that all is right with the world, for now. Just the sight of these books on my shelf is a not a reminder of time’s continual passing, but of the memories I choose to keep in my heart.

 

My numerous relocations were not always to the places I wished to be. There were places I loved and places I was glad to leave, but through a lifetime of moves, I have never been without those things that make my house a home. In the weeks and months following a move, we are able to begin the process of rebuilding our lives in a new place.

But there are those whose paths I cross who have not experienced that same continuity of home. They find themselves without the security and comfort I take for granted daily. They are without a sanctuary to call home. I have moved, but I have never fled my home. I have discarded items I could live without, but I have never left everything I owned behind. I move and take with me the physical pieces of my past, I am never left with just memories.

#developingyoureye

 

 

In the past year, I’ve made it a point of going out on my own and exploring Rome. Sometimes I only managed one or two outings a month, and other times I’ve managed an outing each week. I’ve revisited new shows in museums and churches I’d visited in the past, and discovered many more along the way. I’ve tried several new places to eat and logged so many miles I needed to upgrade my everyday hiking shoes.

In a city with as much to discover as Rome, it is difficult to know where to begin. If you’d like a few pointers from someone who’s done a fair bit of walking around the city, join me and I’ll show you the Rome I’ve discovered along the way.

I’ve initiated nearly every journey I’ve taken in Piazza del Popolo. It is of course possible to take public transportation to arrive closer to my destination, but I love commencing my journeys here.

Arriving at the gates of Piazza del Popolo provides a physical manifestation of a psychological boundary. Once I’ve crossed into this piazza, my daily responsibilities simply melt away and I am an anonymous observer, an explorer, a pilgrim, a discoverer.

Even if I am in a rush to pass through, I always take in the sweeping view of the piazza before I continue along my way. What is it about this Piazza that makes it such a special launch pad for adventure?

For me, it is the feeling I get as I disembark from the tram I have taken in to the Storico Centro – the historical center. It is the glimpse of the Porta del Popolo towering above me as tourists and locals rush out of the doors, hurrying to catch the light, or the metro and continue their journeys.

The gates towering above hold the promise of adventure just beyond, and I am ready. No matter the number of times I view this site, I am in awe of these intimidating walls which seem to beckon me forward. They invite me to pass through and discover the secrets that lie on the other side.

Perhaps this is just Piazza del Popolo doing the work it was intended to do – giving the pilgrim arriving in Rome a dramatic welcome to this ancient city. An entrance that will never grow old, that will both welcome and overwhelm the weary traveler standing at the door.

In fact, Bernini added the following above the Porto (the door) to welcome Swedish Queen Christina, a Catholic convert, to Rome in 1655 – FELICI FAUSTOQUE INGRESSUI MDCLV – For a Happy and Propitious Entrance.  Could there be a more auspicious place to begin your journey?

As one of the gates of the Aurelian Walls, the location has been a main entry point for the city in many iterations over the centuries. This space wasn’t always the most welcoming site. In times past, the fountain served as a place for those who lived nearby to do their laundry. Livestock grazed among the people entering the city for the first time.

Take Irving Stone’s description of Michelangelo’s less than favorable impression of Rome’s front door when he views it for the first time in The Agony and The Ecstacy:

(They) descended to the Porta del Popolo, passing the tomb of Nero’s mother to enter the small piazza. It stank from piled garbage. Above them to the left was the Pincio hill covered with vineyards. The streets they followed were narrow lanes with broken cobbles underfoot. The noise of the carts passing over the stones was so deafening…

As he further observes the state of ruin and decay, with goats grazing everywhere and dead animals under the feet of their horses, “Michelangelo felt sick to his stomach: the Mother City of Christendom was a waste heap and a dunghill.”

Through many changes over the years, the northern entrance to the historic center of the city has come along way since then. The current Porto del Popolo was built over the remains of an ancient Roman gate. I once read that the remains of Nero were once housed in this piazza as well, the people feared his spirit cursed and haunted the square. Both were banished when a pope had the mausoleum destroyed, the ashes dispersed, and built the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo on those same grounds.

The design of the Piazza, like much of Rome, progressed through the ages, but the location ensures that the square remained an important starting point. In fact, maps of the city of Rome used to have Piazza del Popolo at the bottom, in order to aid pilgrims along their journey.

Once you pass through the gates, the first thing you’ll notice is the large obelisk in the center of a fountain with four lions. The obelisk once adorned an Egyptian temple of Ramses. It was then taken to the Circus Maximus by the Emperor Augustus where it remained until 1589 when Pope Sixtus V brought it to serve as a center piece of the piazza before you. The lions were added in 1823.

Piazza del Popolo will also provide you with your first taste of the sometimes aggressive street hawkers, selling everything from selfie sticks to noisy blobs of colored goo. Ignore them if you can and take in the ambience of the square before you. The square is quite large – 184m by 124m, but take note that there are streets running on either side of the piazza, so please look before you step in front of traffic.

To your left and right on the square – to the east and the west, are two additional fountains. At the base of the hill to your left is a fountain to the Goddess Roma.  The fountain to your right depicts Neptune. Stairs above the fountain of Roma lead to a fantastic overlook of Piazza del Popolo. From here you can glimpse the symmetry and grace of the space below you.

Looking down from your perch above the square, notice the buildings to either side of the Porta del Popolo, housing the Carabinieri station and the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo. The Church of Santa Maria del Popolo is easy to walk past without noticing, but it is another lovely and enormous church, housing works in situ by Caravaggio and Bernini.

Although many people claim that Piazza del Popolo takes its name from the Poplar trees that once grew here, I personally think it is more likely that the Piazza owes its current name to the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo – Sant Mary of the people.

Back down in the square, you’ll notice two churches nestled between three roads to the south, opposite the gate you entered. The Church on the east is Santa Maria in Montesanto, the Church to the west is Santa Maria dei Miracoli. Santa Maria in Montesanto is also known as the Artist’s Church. Beginning in the 1950s artists read at the masses of the church and a prayer for artists was read at the end of mass. I believe that this tradition continues, but I haven’t been able to locate anything that says so definitively.

As you prepare to leave the Piazza, you’ll notice three distinct paths lay before you. Known as the Tridente (Trident) this was designed to allow pilgrims to easily find their destination. Furthest to the west is Via Ripetta leading to Ponte Sant Angelo and St. Peter’s. In the Center is Via del Corso leading to San Giovanni in Laterano. To the East is Via Babuino leading to Piazza di Spagna and Santa Maria Maggiore.

Now that you’ve acquainted yourself with Rome’s grand entryway, it’s time to explore the rest of the city. You will find that the Tridente is an excellent way to keep your bearings as you discover the treasures tucked away awaiting discovery just beyond these three main streets.

The Aventine Hill is the southernmost of Rome’s seven hills. It is a peaceful residential area that seems a world away from the bustle of other areas of Rome.

I began my exploration at Terme Caracalla, located just to the south of the Circus Maximus on the Caelian Hill. The enormous ruins housed a public bath from the time it was completed in AD 217 during the reign of Emperor Caracalla until a Goth invasion some 300 years later. The entrance fee is 6 euros, and there are audio and video guides available to rent. For this visit, I decided just to stroll through the grounds and just soak in the atmosphere of these impressive remains. The walking path through the Terme leads you through the remains of the pools, gymnasiums, and hot and cold rooms. I felt dwarfed standing amid the towering ruins of the Terme. I can’t even imagine what it must have looked like to walk through this impressive complex when it was fully operational.

 

 

 

 

From the Terme, I followed Viale Aventino to Viale della Piramide Cestia where I arrived at the Museo della Via Ostiense. This museum, located in the Porto San Paolo is tiny, but completely free of charge.  It has some interesting artifacts, but the most interesting thing about it is that it was part of the Aurelian Walls, and you can climb to the top to walk between the two towers. As often seems to happen in my explorations, I was the only visitor inside the museum.

Just a block away is the Cimitero Acattolico di Roma – the Non-Catholic Cemetery. Follow Via Marmorata to Via Caio Cestio and you will arrive at the gates. There is no entrance fee, but visitors are asked to leave a small donation. I walked around this fascinating cemetery, which has great views of the Pyramid of Cestia.

I continued down Via Marmorata until I reached the Lungotevere Aventino, where I realized that I wanted to be up on the hill overlooking the valley I found myself in. My mistake ended up being a rather fortuitous one, as I needed to take the Clivo di Rocca Savella to reach the Giardino degli Aranci – my next destination. This small pedestrian side street is lovely, and has some great views from the top of the garden steps.

After I took in the views from the garden, where I heard the cannon being fired from the Gianicolo Hill for the very first time, I set off toward the Rose Garden. Of course, I inadvertently headed in the opposite direction. This too proved a fortunate mistake. I decided to stop in the Basilica di Santa Sabina all’Aventino, rather than just rushing by. The interior is grand in its simplicity. It is not ornate and gilded like so many of the churches in Rome, but it is clean, light, airy – and enormous.

From there, I continued up the street and noticed that there were several people queuing randomly in the middle of a small piazza. My curiosity piqued, I realized I’d stumbled upon the Knights of Malta Keyhole. The line was short, so I joined it. There are many tourist attractions I find over-rated, and not really worth seeing. Surprisingly, this wasn’t one of them. The tiny view was magical. It is a perfectly aligned vista of St Peter’s that reflects the illusion I had noticed all along the hill, that the view of the steeple appears closer when viewed from a distance.  Well worth the lovely hike up the Aventine to view.

Following my turn at the keyhole, I walked the opposite direction down Via di Santa Sabina until I reached the Roseto di Roma Capitale – the Rose Garden, which was closed when I arrived. Rather than return by bus, I decided to walk back to Piazza del Popolo from here. Taking Via del Circo Massimo I turned down Via dell’Ara Massima di Ercole to Via di San Teodoro. I turned down a small side street to visit San Giorgio in Velabro, which stands near the Arch of Janus. According to the historical marker outside the church, this area was once a marsh, famed for being the spot where a basket containing Romulus and Remus was found. Continuing past the Foro Romano, I continued up Via Monte Tarpeo to Via del Campidoglio. Cutting through the Piazza del Campidoglio, I decided I had enough time to climb the steep stairs next door to visit the Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara Coeli. It is another beautiful church, with spectacular views of the piazza below, and the city further afield.

Finally, I reached Via del Corso and took that to Piazza del Popolo where I caught the tram home. In all, I walked over 10 miles, and covered the Caelian, Aventine, Palatine, and Capitoline hills – four of the seven. Not a bad day’s hike!

Friday Fotos: Security

April 7, 2017

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” – Hellen Keller

If you couldn’t tell by my blog title, this is one of my favorite quotes. It reminds me that the security of my comfort zone is an illusion, and the moment I step out of it my world expands.

Today, step out from your illusion of security and join the world beyond the safety of your comfort zone.

You can find more examples of Security at the Daily Post

My Relationship with Italy

Lately I’ve been thinking about my relationship with Italy. For me, it was not a case of love at first sight. In fact, it’s often seemed more of a wary acceptance that has more or less developed into a comfortable coexistence. As I try to piece together my complicated relationship with this beautiful, complex, exasperating country, I wanted to share a piece that I wrote for a travel writing class I took several years ago.

This was something I wrote back before I launched this blog, and although I have traveled quite a bit in Italy, I’ve kept rather quiet about it. The reasons for my reluctance to write about Italy are two-fold. One is I find Italy very difficult to capture in words. The other is that I’ve found that people have very strong opinions about Italy, even within the class, reaction to my less than positive initial views of Italy were not well received by the Italophiles among my classmates.

Since then, I’m reluctant to share my honest thoughts and reflections on the country I call home for now, which has created a self-imposed chilling effect. I’ve found that I’ve become more focused on photos and travel, and less willing to share my reality.

So, here it goes. I’d like to share the first day of my very first visit to Italy. I had extremely high expectations of what I would find there, I’d seen movies, I’d read novels, non-fictions, and guidebooks, and I had come up with a picture in my head of what I thought I would find. I had reduced Italy down from a nation of complex character and history, to an oversimplified picture postcard. In my mind it was a place of sun and ease and laughter. Reality, of course, is a bit more complicated. So here’s what happened on my first trip to Italy, when I decided to let go of what I thought Italy was supposed to be.

Spring Break, 2011

Have you ever found that your experience just doesn’t live up to the dream? As a child, my travel dreams were modest. I never wanted to travel the world. I wanted to visit Ireland, Italy, and India. I have no idea where my dreams of visiting a trio of countries beginning with the letter I originated from, but they formed the base of the itinerary of my dream travels.

Here were then on our first visit to Italy, a fulfilment of a childhood dream.

Unfortunately, thus far, Italy not lived up to my expectations. Before we arrived, I had romanticized vision of Italy. It was the land I had seen in postcards, and paintings, and romantic films. The part of Italy we were in wasn’t quite the same.

We were staying on the American Army base of Camp Darby, outside of Livorno. We had taken a main highway down, and those views I’d seen in photos and films they just weren’t visible from the road. Aside from a fleeting glimpse of the Leaning Tower of Pisa from the highway, I had seen nothing that made me fall in love with Italy. It was dirty. It was run-down. The area we were in was by and large, quite nondescript. When we finally exited the highway, we passed a stretch of road full of transvestite hookers. La Dolce Vita indeed.

That first day we continued to explore the area we were staying in I was just not impressed. Tirrenia in the early spring is grey and cold. The waterfront vistas could have just as easily been in the New York City area. Perhaps it was because it was off-season, but the restaurant we chose was merely mediocre.

My initial impressions of one area of the country were beginning to color my view of the whole country, and they were about to intrude on my vacation as well.

Still, I was looking forward to our trip to Lucca the following day. Once I read that it was possible to ride your bikes on top of the ancient walls of the city, I knew that we had to do it. This was going to be our magical Italian experience. The guidebook all but guaranteed it.

We got off to a rocky start, as the gas station we needed to use literally ran out of gas. To top it off, they had no idea when they would have more, and there was not another station nearby. I was really having trouble figuring out why people love Italy so much.

The trip to Lucca proved a bit more scenic that the trip down from Germany. We were off the main highways and seeing a bit more of the countryside. The day before was all grey skies and rain, but it was promising to be a beautiful spring day.

That morning we even achieved the holy grail of Italian travel – a convenient parking spot, but as we unpacked, we were far from joyful. Our increasingly dark moods stood in direct contrast to the brilliant blue skies above. Today, the cracks in our perfectly planned vacation began to show. Today our family of four had a grand total of two bicycle tires for two bikes and a trailer. Things were not looking good.

Somehow, as we were packing up the car, ensuring that we had two bicycles, one trailer, two diaper bags, every possible contingency item you could conceivably use in a day out with a two-year-old and a three-year-old, we left the front tires of our bicycles propped up against the side of our vacation home. There was no way we were going to bike today. The morning’s fiasco had soured our desire to even explore the walls on foot. No, it was time for the contingency plan.

The problem was, we had no other plan for the day. We had toted our bikes across three countries to get here. We were definitely not loving our Italian vacation. We very nearly got back into the car and ended our day here. But, we did have to eat, so we decided to set off on foot to find a restaurant somewhere within the walled city.

While my husband and I attempted to orient ourselves to the map in the guidebook, the children found a grassy corner in the shadow of the walls. They were happy to be out enjoying the pleasant weather in an area they could explore on foot.

Children seem to have a sixth sense when it comes to finding playgrounds, and ours are no different. While we stood with our heads buried in the guidebooks trying to salvage our plan, the children began to form a plan of their own. Impatient hands tugged at our pant legs and impatient voices begged to join the other children at play. We reluctantly followed the children, who had long since forgotten their initial disappointment, and watched as they immediately immersed themselves in the local playground scene.

It was nearly lunchtime, and the playground was bursting at the seams with Italian children scampering from this activity to that. It wasn’t long amid the laughter, and Italian chatter that our mood began to lighten as well.

After an hour on the playground, we were ready to take a walk on the wall. It was more like a stroll on a tree-lined boulevard in the sky than a hike on a medieval rampart. But we only made it a hundred yards or so before our grumbling stomachs called us back to the task of finding lunch.

Thus far in our trip, food had been just one more disappointment. In all the books I’d read, and movies I’d seen, no one ever had a bad meal in Italy. In a country where culture and food are so conjoined, I had imagined more.

Following the disappointing meals we’d had so far, I was really not expecting much.

It was a lovely afternoon, and we soon found a restaurant that the guidebook highly recommended, with plenty of outdoor seating. It was still rather early, but the restaurant was already out of nearly everything on the menu. The only thing they had left was pasta, either with meatballs, clams, or sausages. The food was not terrible, but it wasn’t memorable either. The setting more than made up for the forgettable food. Sitting in the street side café, with its chairs precariously balanced on the cobblestones, was relaxing. It was closer to the Italy of my imagination. We enjoyed our meal, and then the owner’s eight-year-old son decided that we were in desperate need of entertainment, which he provided until we left.

After lunch, we decided to give the city another try. We thumbed through the guidebook for ideas. First we set off on a search for Puccini’s birthplace. We walked around the square, past the large statue of the composer, but we were unable to align the map with the reality. We gave up and moved on.

Next in the guidebook was the site of the former amphitheater, the Piazza del Mercato. We searched in vain for this grand piazza that the guidebook assured us we couldn’t miss. We passed through the area probably three times before we realized that we were walking directly through the piazza. Since this too was less than spectacular, we decided to chuck the guidebook, and wing it from here.

It was then, without the guidebook, that we began to enjoy and appreciate not only Lucca, but Italy.

As soon as we let go of our expectations and just let the day unfold, things changed. We stopped looking for we should see. We stopped acting like tourists and started acting like explorers.

Lucca slowly began to open up to us. We wandered in and out of the small shops lining the ancient cobblestone streets, without a plan. In each shop we took some time to talk with people in them. We asked questions, we struggled to speak Italian, and rather than reading suggestions from people who don’t live there, we listened to what the locals had to say. We learned the history of a family run porcelain business, we learned where to purchase the best limoncello and vin Santo in the region.

We left Lucca with a greater appreciation for the country. In the process of letting go of the plan, we finally discovered the Italy that had eluded us. We realized that sometimes it’s best to give up the plan and just let the adventure happen.

Post Script

This vacation was one of the first ones we had taken outside of Germany. Our visit to Lucca was in the early part of my first visit to Italy. This vacation changed a lot about the way I approached travel.

Before that vacation, I religiously followed what the guidebooks said I should see. I never strayed from the safety of the pages.

I found that I wasn’t always enjoying our explorations, but I never knew what was missing. I was seeing everything that I was supposed to see, but I only felt like I was constantly trying to complete a never-ending checklist of must see sights. I felt as though I was never really appreciating the place I was in.

This trip helped me to become much more relaxed in my approach to vacation planning. Probably a bit too relaxed, as there are times I travel now without much more than a hotel reservation. I learned to let go of the preconceived notions I had of what I thought a place should be. I learned to allow myself to get to know a place slowly – in a more personal way.

This first vacation to Italy was followed by five more over the coming years. Although eventually, we did bike on the walls of Lucca (and it was well worth it), often times we wouldn’t have much more than the name of the city we wanted to explore that day. Most of the time it worked out better than we thought it would. Most of the time the food was spectacular. We met up with new friends and old friends and grew to look forward to our time in Italy.

Each trip we took added just a little bit more to the depth of my understanding and appreciation for the country, the people and the culture of Italy.

Although we didn’t know it at the time, four years later we would be living in this perplexing country. My relationship with Italy is still a complicated one. There are days I love it and marvel at it. There are also bad Italian days, where I just don’t get it, and I just don’t like it. I think though, you don’t really appreciate the good parts as much if you don’t have the vexing ones alongside it.

I have found that this is a place that causes me to continually reflect on my beliefs, on myself, on my ability to handle intercultural interactions, on my views. In Italy, nearly as much has been revealed to me about myself as it has about the place I call home.

I still don’t subscribe to the view of the Italian Dolce Vita. Here, as everywhere else, there is the bitter along with the sweet. But for me anyway, Italy has revealed something of Vita Vera – true life. In a place where the contrasts are so remarkable, it’s difficult not to leave untouched by them.

So perhaps it wasn’t love at first sight. Maybe, just maybe, I am on the course of something just a bit deeper. I saw the flaws, and I didn’t turn away. I came back to discover that there was an indescribable charm there as well.

Dense Travels on Thursdays in Trastevere

April 1, 2017


Dense is an appropriate word to describe Rome. Dense with history, dense with museums, dense with churches, densely woven narrow streets, dense with tourists, densely populated, dense with richly individual Riones, including Trastevere. Over the past two weeks, I have found myself wandering the small region on the southern end of Rome, trying to acquaint myself with the population and characteristics of this traditional residential area.

Trastevere comes from the Latin Trans Tiberim – across the Tiber. Until the Middle Ages and the creation of the Jewish Ghetto, it was a strong Jewish center. It is home to two of the oldest churches in Rome – Santa Maria in Trastevere, and Santa Cecilia. I have found that the Trasteverini – the natives of the Trastevere Rione, to be the friendliest and most welcoming population in Rome. The historical intercultural character of the area makes it attractive to tourists, artists and expats. Today, it is full of restaurants, shops, and tourists. In the early mornings, however, you can still catch a fleeting glimpse of the neighborhood as it was.

Although I’ve read a substantial amount of information about the area of Trastevere, it wasn’t until recently that I really began to explore it. The center point of my earliest ventures inside the Rione was the Museum of Rome in Trastevere. I highly recommend a visit to this small museum. I first visited because of the 2016 World Press Photo exhibit, but the museums permanent displays proved just as interesting. On permanent display in the museum are the gallery of Roman scenes, a collection of paintings with Rome as the central theme, as well as the scenes from Roman life, where mannequins in period costumes are set in tableaus of ordinary scenes from days gone by.

If you find yourself in Piazza Sant’Egidio, I highly recommend a stop in to look around. The museum is currently hosting a show on the photographic works of Vivian Maier. Ms. Maier is a fascinating story, if you haven’t heard of her you can view her work on the official website. Ms. Maier’s photographs are stunning and well worth a visit to the museum.

It is the confluence of her story and her photographs that make this exhibit so interesting. Many of the photos were never developed in her lifetime. The photographer would never see this stunning collection of photos beyond the view piece of her camera. Now, we are presented with a lens by which to observe what she saw, and interpret it as we will. What do you see reflected back to you in the portraits and every day scenes given to us through the talent of Ms. Maiers?

“Photography is the utmost proof of our own existence… and faced with Maier’s incredible talent and desire to keep her photography activity a private matter, we are dazed and confused. In observing her body of work it’s us who try to complete the information we have on her life with what we presume through her pictures; we attempt to guess whether she was happy, distressed, whether her hardened stare is the testimony of a hard life, or simply a moments concentration.” From the Museum guide of the Maier photography exhibit

Running concurrently is an exhibit on the history of Chinese propaganda posters. I found this exhibit fascinating not only for the beautiful art, but the descriptions which had a much more sympathetic view of Chinese Communism than that which I am used to reading.

 

The Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere is located just around the corner from the Museum of Rome. The Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere dominates the lively square, anchored with restaurants and usually filled with tourists resting on the steps of the fountain, relaxing to the sounds of the ever present street musicians.

Rome is densely populated with churches, and the Trastevere district is no exception. If you are only going to visit one church in this district, Santa Maria in Trastevere won’t disappoint. I have seen an overwhelming number of churches and cathedrals in Europe, and this one stands out. It ranks among my top three favorite in Rome. The others being Santa Maria degli Angeli near Termini and Santa Maria Sopra Minerva near the Pantheon.

Santa Maria in Trastevere is magnificently mosaicked in gold with an intricately designed tiled floor. I was awed by the gilded interior of this church. According to the book A Catholic’s Guide to Rome, this church is perhaps the site of the first public Christian liturgy in Rome, the earliest Marian devotion, and the first parish organization. According to legend, this church was erected on the spot of a mysterious fountain of oil sprang from the ground on the day that Christ was born. There is a marker in the church, but, alas, I was so stunned by the mosaics that I appeared to have walked right past it.

On the day of my visit to the Vivian Maier exhibit, I left my maps at home. This was a miscalculation on my part, and in my effort to look less like a tourist, I ended up adrift among the dense warren of narrow crooked streets. I have to tell you, wandering through Trastevere without a map, or a clear idea of where you are going, is not the best way to see the area. Because I knew the way to Piazza San Egidio, I armed only myself with a faint copy of a map from a guidebook, and attempted a self-styled walking tour of Trastevere. With only my internal sense of direction to guide me, it was not a resounding success. I did manage to visit two other churches, but instead of walking the circumference of the region, I somehow ended up circling back the way I came. I did, however see some very lovely streets, many of them more than once.

The next church I stopped in was Santa Maria del Orto, because I found myself walking past it and it was open. The most interesting thing about this church is that many of the altars were sponsored by guilds, including the chicken sellers. According to the churches own website, it was built at the site of a miracle which occurred in the form of a vision of Mary in the garden.

Eventually, I found myself standing in front of the Basilica of Santa Cecilia in Piazza Santa Cecilia. It was around lunchtime, but I decided to check and see if the church was still open. It was, and I had an exceptional visit, where I nearly got locked in a crypt. Following my close call in the basement of the church, I was quite hungry and set off to find a place to eat. It was then that I discovered the best suppli in Rome, at a small take-out place called I Suppli on Via di San Francesco a Ripa 137. This was a serendipitous discovery, one which I discovered because I was lost, and this place had no line. What I didn’t know until later is this place is famous for its traditional suppli, and usually has quite a long line. Most of the suppli you find in Rome have very little flavor in the sauce, these pieces of deliciousness are bursting with flavor. Oh. My. Goodness. A visit to I Suppli is worth a trip to Trastevere. I also had a piece of  the pizza taglia – pizza by the slice. I took my delicious discovery and ate it on the steps of the fountain in Piazza Santa Maria, enjoying the serenading street performers.

Although my morning was dense with discoveries, I still had plenty of time before I needed to catch the bus home. I decided to conquer the Gianicolo Hill and observe the view. This hill is the site of a daily cannon firing, and the location of some of the best views in Rome. I stopped a Trasteverini out walking his dog and asked him for directions. He corrected my pronunciation of Gianicolo, told me it was a beautiful place, then he told to go up, until I needed to go right. It made perfect sense.

On the way up, I passed a very crowded side street, but since I could still go up, I assumed it wasn’t yet time to go right.

Eventually, I ran out of sidewalk. I decided it was time to go right. I went up a set of stairs, half hidden by branches and fallen leaves and exited into a field near a large monument. I knew I was in the right area, because I remembered reading about this particular monument – a memorial to a battle with the French soldiers that fought against Garibaldi and his troops engraved with the saying Roma o Morte – Rome or Death.

Just up the hill from the monument was another site I had read about, a fountain erected to mark the opening of an aqueduct. Across the street was the Spanish Embassy, and it has lovely views. I’m not sure where I thought they could fire the cannon from, but in my mind I had reached the apex of the Gianicolo Hill. Sadly, this was not the case. I admired the view, admired the fountain, and headed back down to catch the bus home.

To my great disappointment, when I returned home I realized that I had not in fact reached the summit of the Gianicolo. Had I brought a map, I most likely would have realized this, but seeing the layout of the land on the map the directions to go up until I needed to go right made much more sense. A week later, I returned to Trastevere, with a map and a guidebook. This time, I would stay out of the basements, and check my map regularly and find the actual top of the Gianicolo Hill.

Piazza Garibaldi was not much further from where I had turned around the first time. I had discovered a slightly shorter path up the hill, which brought me to the foot of the San Pietro in Montorio. I climbed the wide increasingly steep staircase and passing the stations of the cross before I exited in front of the church’s courtyard. Visible through a locked gate is the Tempietto di Bramante – the temple of Bramante, built for the Spanish royal family in 1502 to mark the spot of the martyrdom of St Peter. It is considered by many to be the first great building of the high Renaissance, although the spot of the martyrdom of St Peter was later determined to have occurred elsewhere. I peeked into the church, but it was dark, and after my close call the previous week I was not going inside.

Continuing up the hill and turning down the aptly named Passegiatta del Gianicolo, the walk along Gianicolo, I arrived slightly before 10 am. This is before the venders and street hawkers have a chance to set up their wares, and Piazza Garibaldi is crowd free and peaceful. It was a bit hazy over the city, but it was a lovely quiet view of Rome. The park at the top of the hill is full of the busts of men I assume are compatriots of Garibaldi and heroes of long ago. I returned down the hill, taking a set of stairs that emptied into the same crowded street I had seen the week before.

On this visit to Trastevere, I decided to visit the large palazzi, once homes to Roman elite, and now open for the general public. The first visit was Villa Farnesina, known for the frescoes painted by Raphael. The most well-known of the frescoes by Raphael are found in the Vatican Museums. In my visit to the enormous museum, I didn’t quite make it to the Raphael Rooms. By that time on the tour, we just wanted to escape the crowds. In Villa Farnesina, for just 6 euros, you can enjoy some lovely frescoes in a far more peaceful environment. Aside from the painted walls and ceilings, it is unfurnished. Unless you purchase the audio guide, or come in with a guide, it won’t take long to get through. It is lovely, but small.

With quite a bit of time left I decided to visit the larger Corsini Gallery, located just across the street. The ticket to this gallery is a bit more expensive, but if you visit Palazzo Barbarini within ten days, you receive a discount on the entrance fee.  I thoroughly enjoyed this gallery. Each room contains a map detailing the paintings and statues you’ll find there. I thought it was much like a slightly smaller version of Villa Doria Pamphilj or Palazzo Barbarini. It is full of lovely paintings and sculptures, although I probably wouldn’t have known many of them if I hadn’t visited so many other art museums in Rome. Among the paintings there, you will find Caravaggio’s  St John the Baptist, several paintings by Guido Reni, a painting by Artemisia Genteleschi’s father, and a couple by Rubens.

When I visited, there was a special exhibit with paintings by Daniele da Volterra. The two Caribinieri officers standing guard in the room indicated that these were indeed special paintings. Da Volterra is best known today as the painter who covered the nudes on Michelangelo’s last judgement, but his paintings are beautiful. His Madonna and child was exquisite, but under glass and casting too strong a reflection to capture in a photograph.

As much as I enjoy strolling through these large palazzi, I find it just a bit sad as well. These beautiful museums were at one time the homes of people who lived a lush insular existence, never dreaming that one day their world would be so changed that the public they sought to separate themselves from would traipse through their private rooms and that they would exist only in the histories and our imaginings of their opulent lives.

After the visits to the museums, I wandered through the streets and over to the Isola Tiberina, and once again aimlessly wandered the streets of Trastevere, before catching the bus home.

Over the course of my two visits to Trastevere, I managed to walk a grand total just under 16 miles.  I didn’t see quite everything in this Rione, how could you capture centuries of life in just two days, no matter how densely packed your travels are?

 

 

Head over to the Daily Post it you’d like to see some more examples of Dense.

Friday Fotos: A collection of favorites

March 31, 2017


Here are a few of the most recent photos I’ve posted on Instagram. Most of them are various spots around Rome, with one exception – the beautiful Citadel Park in Copenhagen.

For some reason, I find that Rome is easier to capture in photographs than it is in words. Perhaps it’s the long history, or the complex character of the city and its many Riones, or maybe it’s the sheer variety of people that call the eternal city home. Whatever it is, I’ll continue to try and capture the elusive spirit of the city that I call home, for now.

 

Seeking Green Spaces – Friday Fotos on Saturday

March 25, 2017


Every now and again, you just need to get out of the city.

Every now and again,  I crave more country than the parks of Rome can provide. Fortunately for me, skirting the border of the city is a surprising amount of beautiful farmland. The gently rolling hills of Lazio bear a closer resemblance to the famed hills of Tuscany than the fabled seven hills of Rome.

In these wide swaths of green space, you’re more likely to encounter a tractor than a Vespa, and the traffic – well, sheep may be your biggest problem here.

One overcast afternoon, we needed a break from the city. A short 15 minute drive and we were at a quaint family run Agritourismo, for a delicious organic lunch.  We remained for a while after we finished eating and let the children frolic in the green fields, just soaking in the pastoral beauty – with the Roman skyline in the distance.

Head on over to the Daily Post for more Green.