On My Own

The next day I was planning on meeting Iman, but medicine had yet to work wonders on her cold and I ended up spending the day solo. My first destination was the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria. Gargi and I had already been to a number of the sights listed in Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons so I figured I’d finish up most of the remaining sights today. Here is a helpful blog that we used in order to accomplish this. Now the church I was going to is the sight of Bernini’s The Ecstasy of St. Theresa, and the blog wasn’t kidding when it said that it was a bit out of the way and tiny. But it was worth the pit stop. To my great surprise, I was expecting to be tired of churches at this point, but even now it never fails to amaze me how beautiful they all are, regardless of whether or not they contain famous artwork.

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My second stop of the day was the Villa Borghese. Now remember how I mentioned that I didn’t make any reservations before my trip? Well you pretty much need a reservation to get into the Villa Borghese. Now I knew that going in. That didn’t mean that I wasn’t going to try and get around this, especially considering that almost all of my friends who had gone to the Villa Borghese had managed to fabricate their way in. So I figured I’d give it a shot. And remembering Italian lesson number two (in Italy rules are really just suggestions) I set off for the Villa.

Now the way things work at the Villa is that you sign up for a time slot and then view the Villa at your allocated time. I figured my best shot was to come after the people who had legitimate reservations had already entered the Villa, so I arrived about thirty minutes after the 11 am time slot. Sure enough I was initially told that I could not get into the Villa for the next available time slot, BUT I was told that I could pay and enter with the ongoing time slot. I also had to laugh when the ticket lady gave me a pitying look for having only an hour and a half in the Villa as opposed to the normal two hours. I on the other hand was just excited to get in.

IMG_8116  IMG_8117  IMG_8118IMG_8130  IMG_8134  IMG_8136IMG_8138  IMG_8141  IMG_8159IMG_8147  IMG_8145  IMG_8153As you can see, the artwork inside the Villa Borghese is pretty stunning. My favorite statue ended up being Bernini’s David (picture on the bottom left). There were also a number of beautiful paintings. What actually surprised me about the Villa was how small it was. It only has two floors of artwork. The other thing that surprised me was that they had a modern art exhibit on display by Mat Collishaw. The first component of his work were these glass picture frames that contained paintings by Caravaggio. When first glancing at these frames it seems as though they only contain Caravaggio reproductions, but if you look at the paintings for long enough the figures inside the frames move ever so slightly. I actually thought it was a great exhibit since it helped demonstrate how realistic Caravaggio’s pictures are. His second work is a zoetrope based on Ippolito Scarsella’s The Massacre of the Innocents. The content wasn’t exactly pleasant but it was still a pretty impressive work.

Once I was done with the Villa I went for a quick walk around the grounds. The grounds are fairly extensive and are on a hill so you get a pretty nice view of Rome. From there I walked down to Piazza del Popolo.

IMG_8218  IMG_8213  IMG_8227IMG_8229  IMG_8230  IMG_8222IMG_8233  IMG_8238  IMG_8237Once I was there I went back to the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo this time in search of Bernini’s Habakkuk and the Angel. After that I had managed to go to all of the places in Angeles and Demons, with the exception of Castel Sant’Angelo.

The only other thing on my agenda for the day was to visit an M.C. Escher exhibit that was on display at Chiostro del Bramante. So I set off in that general direction. It was in the middle of this wandering that I stumbled across a Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibit at the Museo dell’Ara Pacis. I had taken three years worth of photography classes in high school and Cartier-Bresson was one of those photographers who we had to talk about every semester. I hadn’t actually seen any of his original works so I figured that this exhibit would be worth a stop. The exhibit turned out to be great. My one qualm with it was that it was unclear in what direction you were supposed to be moving through the exhibit, making it very easy to go through his work in a haphazard and non-chronological way. Before leaving I also stopped by the Ara Pacis, or the alter of peace, that was on display on the top floor.

IMG_8254  IMG_8258  IMG_8273IMG_8262  IMG_8268  IMG_8272From there I slowly made my way towards the M.C. Escher exhibit. In the midst of my wandering I noticed a line forming to go into the church San Luigi dei Francesi. So, not being in a hurry, I decided to join the line and go inside the church. Remember how I mentioned that my Rome trip consisted of a lot of wandering? Case in point. Anyways, I entered the church and realized that there were a series of Caravaggio paintings there. So after struggling with the crowd I was finally able to see the series of paintings below.

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After that I finally made it to the Escher exhibit. Now thanks to two of my college roommates, I have lived with reproductions of Escher’s work for a few years. The two ones below specifically. So, when I kept seeing signs all over Rome advertising an Escher exhibit I knew that I had to go.

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I will say that the Escher exhibit was excellent. They did a really good job of organizing his work chronologically and showing his transformation as an artist. The audioguide that they had was a bit lengthy (and thus went unused most of the time I was going through the exhibit) but the signs did a good job of explaining things.

In case you are like me and know nothing about Escher’s personal life, I thought I’d let you know what I learned here. Escher is actually a Dutch artist who ended up moving to Italy. He lived there continuously for fourteen years and met and married an Italian woman. He and his wife ended up having two sons together while they were in Italy. The reason behind the family’s move away from Italy came when his youngest son came home one day in a youth fascist uniform. Escher did not want his family to get mixed up in Mussolini’s politics and so he moved his family out of Italy. Escher was a very well respected artist during his lifetime and earned a number of awards before dying in 1972.

While the exhibit was great, getting into the exhibit was a bit of a pain. When I first got to the church there was a line out the door. Soon after I got in line there was an announcement made in Italian, and by using my sketchy Spanish and by asking around I realized that they were telling us that it would take an hour to get into the exhibit. Now I thought that they were just trying to make us come back in an hour, but low and behold beyond the ticket booth lay a courtyard that had a line snaking around almost the entire perimeter. So I settled in to wait and after the promised hour I finally gained entrance to the exhibit. But the wait was totally worth it.

Once I was done with the exhibit all that was really left for me to do was to slowly make my way back to my hostel and prepare for my last full day in Rome.

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When In Rome, Do As the Roman (Fulbrighters) Do

One thing that I noticed in Rome is how some of the simplest things make me happy. It was sunny and warm almost the entire time I was in Rome, and that just made every day seem amazing. Even just waking up to the sunshine made me ridiculously happy.

Anyways, I picked up Gargi in the morning and we walked to Santa Maria Maggiore, which is one of the churches in Rome that is actually owned by the Vatican. Apparently this gives the property something akin to diplomatic status. Because I was with Gargi hiring a guide or going on a tour wasn’t particularly necessary. Between Gargi’s knowledge and Wikipedia we managed to do alright. We even managed to find Bernini’s nondescript grave.

IMG_7826  IMG_7859  IMG_7861IMG_7840  IMG_7845  IMG_7852IMG_7849  IMG_7833  IMG_7835From there we walked South towards the Colosseum. Unsurprisingly the line was out of control. But again traveling with Gargi is great. She steered us towards the Roman Forum since you can buy a combination ticket there for both the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. So instead of waiting for hours in the Colosseum line we waited in the much shorter line for the Roman Forum.

It was pretty incredible once we were inside the Roman Forum. While everything is more or less ruins, you still get a pretty good sense of the scale and craftsmanship that must have gone into everything.

IMG_7875  IMG_7877  IMG_7878IMG_7903  IMG_7901  IMG_7906IMG_7913  IMG_7919  IMG_7939IMG_2203My favorite thing that Gargi told me about the Roman Forum was that if you look at some of the inscriptions you can tell that things have been replaced or chiseled over. She told me that this was because new battles, generals, and victories would be recorded on these monuments and the old ones would be erased. I guess you really had to be quite the military stud to have your name stay on these memorials.

Once we were done walking around the Forum we retraced our steps to the Colosseum. One thing that really surprised me was the size of the Colosseum’s steps. Now I’ll willingly admit that I’m a short person at 5’3” (160 cm), but I like to think that I would have been tall in ancient Rome. So I was really surprised at how steep the steps were. Gargi also told me that these steps are called a vomitorium. The idea behind them is that the stairwell slope downwards and causes you to rush down the stairs. So the Colosseum was designed to “vomit” its crowds out quickly and efficiently.

And now for a few more Colosseum facts. Fact one: you might notice a number of holes in Colosseum when you take a look at my pictures. This is because the Colosseum used to have a marble facade. The marble was taken and used in other constructions, one of the most notable being St. Peter’s Basilica. Fact two: historians suspect that the Colosseum used to have some sort of shade system, which considering that I was feeling pretty warm in the middle of winter seems like quite a good idea. Fact three: apparently ladies had to sit towards the top of the Colosseum since it was thought that the violence would be too upsetting for them to view up close.

IMG_7944  IMG_7957  IMG_7962IMG_2215Now by the time Gargi and I had finished with the Colosseum we were starving. So we sat down for lunch and waited for Iman to join us. Once our hunger had been satiated we walked towards the Pantheon since I wanted to actually go inside.

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We took a small detour just before the Pantheon since a few blocks away lies the church Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. Right outside the church is an obelisk by Bernini and inside there is a statue of Jesus Christ done by Michelangelo. I wouldn’t have said that the statue was particularly striking, but the church was quite beautiful.

IMG_8029  IMG_8033  IMG_8039When we were done looking around we quietly left the church and continued on to the Pantheon. Gargi had told me early on that it was her favorite building in Rome and I would have to agree. There isn’t too much to do inside but that doesn’t stop it from being incredible.

IMG_8054  IMG_8047  IMG_8059After that it was gelato time! Now that I’m an adult I can do things like have dessert before dinner and that’s basically what happened. After we grabbed gelato we walked back towards Piazza Navona and paid Borromini’s Sant’Agnese a short visit. After we were done we stopped by a drug store for Iman (take note that Italian pharmacies do not tend to sell American drugs) and then found an Argentinian restaurant for dinner. Now both Iman and Gargi have been living in Italy since October so I couldn’t blame them for wanting to eat literally anything other than Italian food. The restaurant, Baires, actually ended up being really good and I would highly recommend their sangria if you get a chance to go.

Once we had finished we slowly walked back towards our hostels. It was here that Gargi and I parted ways since she was going back to Messina the next day. Overall I had a great day and can’t thank Gargi enough for showing me around.

New Year’s

After spending an appropriate amount of time recovering from New Year’s Eve (keep in mind that teaching generally gives me a 10 pm bedtime so even staying up until midnight was being bold), Gargi and I started our day. To my great relief, most of the major sights in Rome are closed on New Year’s. Now you might be wondering why I was happy about this fact, but to be honest after about two weeks of travel I was pretty content to have a rest day.

Now before I go on to detail the rest of my time in Rome, I’m going to state right off the bat that I arguably didn’t do Rome “right.” Enough of my friends have gone to Rome that I have a nearly endless supply of advice on the city. I freely admit that I ignored most of it. I did not eat gelato every day (just most days), I did not eat pasta/Italian food for every meal, I did not make any sort of reservations in advance, and I did not book a tour to anything. In short, my trip to Rome mostly consisted of me just walking around and discovering things. But hey, it worked for me. I will say that one huge benefit of all of the advice that I got was that I never expected to visit everything. Being overwhelmed with attractions just meant that I was content to take things at a more leisurely pace.

Now back to New Year’s. I will say that one of the great things about Rome is that chances are you are going to stumble upon something beautiful. My late morning wander with Gargi accidentally led us by the Palazzo Chigi, or the official residence of the Italian Prime Minister, and from there it was just a hop, skip, and a jump to Trevi Fountain.

IMG_7658  IMG_7661  IMG_7662IMG_7673  IMG_7665  IMG_7671Luckily I’ve known for a while that Trevi Fountain is undergoing restoration work, so I wasn’t surprised to see the fountain dry and covered with construction work. The one huge advantage of this is that you can actually get quite close to the fountain’s sculptures.

Now like most fountains, it’s not uncommon for people to toss coins into Trevi Fountain; however, at Trevi Fountain there is a particular tradition associated with how you toss in coins. Now no one disputes that throwing in one coin is supposed to help you return to Rome. Gargi then told me that throwing in two coins is supposed to result in a marriage, while three coins results in a divorce. But the meaning behind the second and third tosses is a bit disputed (some people say two coins is supposed to bring a new romance while three coins brings marriage); however, by the time the two of us had even remembered the coin toss we had left the fountain and were focused on finding lunch.

IMG_7677  IMG_7680  IMG_7679We were successful in our quest and eventually came across a pretty good pizza joint. Once we finished we hit the streets, this time to visit the Pantheon. Again because it was New Year’s the Pantheon was closed, but I had a good time snapping a few pictures before heading off to our next destination.

IMG_7691  IMG_7694  IMG_7696Only a few blocks West of the Pantheon is Piazza Navona. Now if any of you are Dan Brown fans you might recognize Piazza Navona as the place in Angels and Demons where Bernini’s Fountain of Four Rivers is located. I happen to be a Dan Brown fan so I was excited to see the fountain in person. If you happen to visit you will also notice that the fountain is fairly shallow, making the drowning scene in Angels and Demons hard to believe.

The other fun fact that Gargi pointed out is that if you look carefully at the Bernini figure facing the church Sant’Agnese in Agone, you will notice that the figure looks noticeably in pain (granted most of the other figures do too, but this one looks a bit more tragic than the rest). Gargi then told me that Borromini was one of the architects of Sant’Agnese and that he happened to be great rivals with Bernini. Apparently Bernini in an act of vengeance has this figure shielding his face in order to convey the idea that Borromini’s building was so ugly that not even his statue could bear to set eyes on it (check out the bottom row of pictures). Now I’m not sure I would agree with Bernini on whether or not Sant’Agnese is ugly, but I found the story highly entertaining.

IMG_7708  IMG_7716  IMG_7712IMG_7717  IMG_7718  IMG_7720From there we walked by the Tiber River until we got word from the boys that they were awake and properly fed. We decided to meet them by the Spanish Steps and set our feet in that direction.

IMG_7733  IMG_7744  IMG_7737IMG_7749  IMG_7755  IMG_7752When we made it to Piazza di Spagna it was absolutely packed. You could barely see the Spanish Steps due to the number of people standing on it. This was one of the many moments that I had in Rome when I was grateful to be visiting in the off season.

IMG_7756  IMG_7757  IMG_7762Having lived in Norway for about 6 months, where the population is a mere 5 million, this was a bit overhwelming. But luckily we weren’t at the Spanish Steps for very long. From there we walked to Piazza del Popolo where Naji led us to the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo. It just so happens that this church has not one, not two, but three Caravaggio’s. Caravaggio is one of my favorite painters so it was incredible to see these paintings. It was also great to see them exactly where they were supposed to be instead of in a museum.

IMG_7767  IMG_7765  IMG_7770From there we crossed the Tiber River to walk towards the Vatican. Now it just so happens that Matt’s favorite Italian restaurant, Mama’s, is near the Vatican. So we called ahead and made a reservation for 9:15 pm. Once that was accomplished all that was left for us to do was to meet two friends at the Vatican. It just so happened that one of my friends from undergrad, Caro, happened to be in Rome on vacation with her family. Having not seen her for about two years, I was really excited to see her and catch up with her over dinner. Once we picked up Caro and Iman we killed the remaining time until our reservation by walking around St. Peter’s Square and the nearby area.

IMG_7781  IMG_7784  IMG_7793Eventually it was time to head over to Mama’s. To our disappointment they weren’t ready for us. Now one of the huge benefits of going to this restaurant was that Matt happens to have quite a rapport with the owner. So instead of standing outside in the cold we were invited inside. When it became clear we weren’t going to be dining in the near future we were given free glasses of prosecco. After a bit of a wait, Matt struck up a conversation with one of the waiters and managed to get the reason for the delay: there was a cardinal dining there. Apparently the restaurant hadn’t properly accounted for how long the cardinal was going to be eating and had planned on giving us the same table. We spent the rest of our time sneaking glances at the cardinal and trying to guess who he might be. Our guess is that he was an Irish cardinal but that is entirely unsubstantiated. Eventually the cardinal and his fellow diners left and we sat down to dinner about thirty minutes later. Considering that we got a free glass of prosecco and in theory some brownie points with God, I didn’t mind the wait too much.

Once we were thoroughly stuffed we began the long walk home and enjoyed some of the beautifully lit up sights along the way.

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