Rome - the Eternal City and it's eternal beauty
Sam and I 'renting the view' Piazza della Rotonda and the Pantheon - still standing after 2000 years.
Whenever I dream about returning to Italy, I think of Rome. I know Naples is my favourite city and Positano is utterly bewitching but there is just something about Rome that holds onto my heart and won't let go.
October 2013 was no exception. I had originally planned four nights but extended it to six nights. It cost me! The airfare was already locked in so I had to pay $700 for both of us for the change - but worth it? YES, a thousand times over. To see my son, Sam, fall in love with the Eternal City was priceless.
We arrived from Naples on a Friday afternoon, headed straight to Hotel Portoghesi and then went out again and off to the Quirinale to see the exhibition on Augustus. No photos allowed so I can't publish any but the Prima Porta Statue of Augustus was there - this is something I've wanted to see on my last three visits to Rome but missed out - and there it was at this exhibit. It's a spectacular statue - almost over 2 metres high and was only discovered in 1863. This is it below - recognise it?
After the Quirinale, we went to dinner and then wound our way back to the Portoghesi. This hotel has a special place in my heart - why? Because I am a huge fan of the Julia Roberts movie 'Eat Pray Love', which was shot on location in the same street as this hotel. If you've seen the movie you may remember this:
This is the exterior location of her character's apartment in the movie. It is just gorgeous and I kept looking longingly inside that door and wanting to go inside and explore - anyway, the hotel was alongside to the right.
Sam and I had lots to do in Rome. We were on the Caravaggio trail. We had a list of Caravaggio's best works to track down and we were on a mission. We also had a four hour tour of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel - that was day one on the Saturday morning. We had to get to the meeting point for the 'Pristine Sistine' tour and be there by 7.30am. All I can say is, thank goodness for Google Maps and it's little satellite tracking device. We made it after running through the streets of the Vatican in the semi-darkness.
The courtyard inside the Vatican Museums
The tour was outstanding. I've been to the Vatican Museums several times but seeing it with an experienced archaeologist for a guide and hearing his explanations - especially in the Raphael Rooms - definitely enhanced our visit. The Sistine Chapel was virtually empty with even enough room to sit on the side benches and ponder the ceiling without being crushed and hurried out. No photos allowed inside the Chapel but they wouldn't do it justice anyway. Try and tune out the crowds and just immerse yourself in the splendour of the artwork.
Above and below - the Raphael Rooms - no crowds!
Bernini's incredible altar and cupola inside St. Peter's Basilica
The tour exits the Sistine Chapel through a doorway that leads to St. Peter's Basilica. You can only use this doorway if you're on a tour. It's handy because you're able to bypass the security line for the Basilica and just go straight in. We were there on a day when many pilgrims were visiting for the Papal Family Mass, so parts of St. Peter's were blocked off, including Bernini's altar (above). However later in our visit - on the very last day before we flew out - we unexpectedly found ourselves back inside the Basilica and were able to see it properly.
We had pre-booked tickets for this before we left home and had the first timeslot entry of the morning. You're allowed two hours inside the gallery and have to check bags - all bags, including handbags/purses. I would strongly recommend getting an audio guide - which we didn't do unfortunately but were still able to appreciate the gallery nonetheless. It's only two floors so when you're allowed admittance, run up the stairs to the top floor and work your way down. We saw Caravaggio's works 'Sick Bacchus', 'Boy with a Basket of Fruit, 'Madonna and Child with St. Anne', 'David with Head of Goliath' and 'St. Jerome'. The Borghese is top heavy with Caravaggio's work so we left pretty happy.
So after our two hours were up - this is what we did - we rented bikes for two hours and went nuts. I kept losing Sam - the gardens are enormous and he just took off, as a 13 year old will, and had the time of his life. So did I! The bikes cost about 7 euro for two hours and you have to leave security ID (I left our passports). Well worth it especially if you have kids - they will love it.
As I said before, Sam and I were on the Caravaggio trail. We saw his works in the Borghese Gallery, had seen some in the Uffizi in Florence as well as two of his works on permanent display in Naples (Flagellation of Christ and Seven Acts of Mercy) but Rome has the big guns. In no particular order, this is where we went, and the works we saw:
Madonna of the Pilgrims located in Sant' Agostino. This church is at the Via Dei Coronari end of Piazza Navona.
Gypsy Fortune Teller - located in the Capitoline Museums
Calling of St. Matthew (above) and Inspiration of St. Matthew (below) - located in San Luigi de Francesi which is about five minutes walk from Piazza Navona
The Conversion of St. Paul (above) and Martyrdom of St. Peter (below)
Both are located in Santa Maria del Popolo in Piazza del Popolo
Caravaggio's other works we saw were Rest on the Flight to Egypt (my all time favourite of his works) and Penitent Magdaelene in the Galleria Doria Pamphilj. This gallery is definitely worth your time. It's off the tourist radar and hardly any visitors were there when Sam and I went. It's a former palace owned by the Pamphilj family whose lineage includes Pope Innocent X. Your admission includes an audio guide which is narrated by one of the family - and his anecdotes and personal insight into what was his family home are truly special.
ROME AT DAWN
I'm an early riser - and what a city to explore when the sun has just risen. It's still and peaceful - and the perfect opportunity to take photos without hundreds of people around. Take a look.
One of Rome's many charming streets
Ponte St. Angelo and one of Bernini's angels
Piazza Navona with not a single tourist in sight - rare!
There is so much more to tell - see next blog post!