La Dolce Vita
October 29, 2005
We changed hotels today - checked out of the Marriott (because we refuse to pay $500+ per night) and into the Hotel 47 near the Forum. We had arranged for late check out from the Marriott, so we were able to stay in our room until 1:00. I had to finish up some work for LRG and then we sent off several emails about accommodations in Southern Italy, along the Amalfi Coast.
We took a taxi to our new hotel and our room was ready when we arrived. The hotel is decorated in a very modern fashion - the room is really nice and pretty big (even by European standards). I think we will be happy here for the next few days.
Shortly after we arrived, we took a walk down to the Tiber River and across the Ponte Palatino (bridge) to Trastevere. We found numerous small cafes/restaurants to choose from and finally decided on a pizzeria on the Piazza in Piscinula. It was quaint and quiet and the pizza was excellent. After our break, we walked back across the River by the Area Sacra dell' Argentina. The remains of 4 temples were discovered here in the 1920's - the oldest, known as Temple C, dates from the early 3rd century BC. Today, the area is also a cat sanctuary and kitties are everywhere (see if you can spot a few of them in the above right picture)!
We left the Area Sacra dell' Argentina and thought we were heading toward the Piazza Navonna, but instead, we found ourselves at Piazza della Rotunda (the Pantheon). Once again, the square was just full of people, so after a quick walk-through, we headed off in the direction of Piazza Navonna, convinced that this time we remembered the correct path. And we did - the square surrounding Bernini's famous fountain of the four rivers was also nearly filled to capacity. The atmosphere around the Piazza Navonna is quite different from that near the Pantheon (which is more dignified) - there are numerous street performers and as a result, it is more family oriented and a bit more "fun" - but the downside is that it is also much more touristy (if that is possible!). So, about that fountain - the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi was built for Pope Innocent X Pamphilj and was unveiled in 1651. It's giants depict the four great rivers on the earth as known at that time, the Ganges, the Danube, the Nile and the Plate. Bernini designed the fountain, which was paid for by means of highly unpopular taxes on bread and other staples!
On the way back to the hotel, we found a market and stopped in for water and a bottle of wine. We returned to our room by 6:30 and decided that we had had enough of battling the crowds!
October 30, 2005
We love you Mom and hope that you have an incredibly special birthday!!!
I haven't been feeling all that well for a couple of days - just a cold - nothing serious, so we got a late start this morning. After breakfast in the hotel, we walked up the street and over into the Forum Romano. We entered from the west, near the 8 remaining columns of the Temple of Saturn.
The walk down the Imperial Way is one of our favorites in all of Rome. With a little imagination, you can see yourself transported back to the 2nd century AD, wandering amongst the complex of over 150 shops that form the Trajan's Market - the tourists in t-shirts and sandals become Romans in togas and sandals (sans the white socks) - "wouldn't you like to buy a very fine carpet?" yells a local shopkeeper.
October 31, 2005
This morning, we set out towards St. Peter's. It is about 2 miles from our hotel, so it was quite a hike. We took a slight detour along the way and walked by the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin and the Bocca della Verita (Mouth of Truth). Medieval tradition had it that the formidable jaws would snap shut over the hands of those who told lies. In reality, it is believed to be a drain cover dating prior to the 4th century BC.
were literally thousands of people in Piazza San Pietro when we arrived. The
line to go through the metal detectors and get into the Basilica went the
entire way around the piazza and then started to loop back upon itself. I
can't even guess at how long it would have been before the people at the end
of the queue would actually make it inside. Neither of us really had the energy
to join the queue - since we have been inside on several other occasions,
we just took pictures around the piazza and started back across the river.
After a rest this afternoon (I am still not recovered from my cold), we went in search of dinner and headed toward the Pantheon area in the ancient center. We had decided on a Chinese restaurant that we ate at when we were last here - we found it and it was closed, although from the hours posted, it should have been open. Then, it finally dawned on us (Markus, actually) that the time had changed yesterday and we were still operating on old time. We filled in the time until the restaurant opened by strolling one last time through the Pantheon and walking through the cobble stone streets around the area. We finished our day with a walk down the Imperial Way to the Forum, which is simply magical at night.
November 1, 2005
A travel day once again, but not before a last glimpse of the Flavian Ampitheater (the Colosseum) on the way out of the city. Our parting thought was that if all roads lead to Roma, then where do all of the roads out of Roma lead? Bet you never thought about that!
We covered about 310 kilometers between the airport in Rome (where we picked up a rental car) and Florence. The journey should have taken just about three hours, but ultimately took over four because of traffic delays. We also had quite a bit of difficulty finding our hotel. We found the general area and Markus went into a nearby hotel to ask for directions. Our navigational skills weren't too bad as we were just 2 blocks away!
We settled into our room - which is very nice (once again tripadvisor.com comes through) and we have to note that this is the first room we have ever stayed in that offers a pillow menu - and went down to the bar for a refreshment. There was another American couple at the bar and they asked the bartender for a restaurant recommendation. He said that many stores, cafes, etc. were closed today for the holiday (All Saint's Day, I think) and then it hit us - the holiday weekend was the reason that Rome was so busy and also the motorway on our drive to Florence. However, the bartender was able to recommend a pizzeria just about 5 minutes walk from the hotel. We took his suggestion and it turned out to be a good one - the pizzas were excellent. Buon Appetito!
After breakfast in the hotel this morning and properly armed with our Rick Steve's Guidebook and a map, we went out to explore the sights of Firenze. Our first stop was the Galleria dell' Accademia to see Michelangelo's David as well as several other sculptures. The 14-foot David, of course is the ultimate masterpiece. And, I must say, he is truly magnificent. Sadly, no photography is permitted in the museum, so we had to be content with photos of a replica in front of the Palazzo Vecchio (more about that later).
Next up on the tour was the Duomo, Florence's Cathedral. It is simply huge - initially built in the Middle Ages and remaining unfinished until the 1400's when the architect Brunelleschi completed the dome. The very ornate neo-Gothic front of the church dates from the 1870's and according to our guidebook is generally ridiculed as "the cathedral in pajamas". We both thought it was a bit overdone.
There is a small octagonal building in front of the cathedral that is Florence's Baptistery. It is Florence's oldest building, dating from the 10th century. In the early 1400's, a competition was held for the commission of doors for the north side of the Baptistery. The commission was won by Lorenzo Ghiberti - he was also given another commission for a second set of doors on the east side, which he took 27 years to complete in bronze.
From the Baptistery, we strolled down the pedestrian-only Via dei Calzaiuoli to the Palazzo Vecchio. This was city hall during the era of the Medici's (the 15th and 16th centuries). The courtyard at the entrance is really quite beautifully decorated - amazing to think that all of this artwork was lavished on a civic center!
Now, back to Michelangelo's David - the statue was commissioned to go on top of the church, but the Florentines loved it so much, they put it next to the Palazzo Vecchio on the main square. It stood here from its completion in 1504 until 1873 when it was moved to a purpose built, perfectly lit tribune within the Accademia.
After pausing to appreciate the replica David a bit more, we continued our tour of Firenze at the Mercato Nuovo (new market) in San Lorenzo. It is basically a flea market, catering predominantly to tourists. We were not impressed. And, thus endeth our first day in Florence.
November 3, 2005
We started out this morning with the aim of spending the afternoon at the Uffizi. We got there and were standing in line with an estimated waiting time of 45 minutes. As we were queuing, I was reading my trusty Rick Steve's guidebook and I began to have doubts about how much we would enjoy the museum. Its not a very large museum and the collection is predominantly Italian Renaissance paintings (with a single gallery of Italian sculptures). Mark and I aren't all that enthused with Renaissance art - we have seen so much of it in other museums. Not that it isn't beautiful, but come on, how many different paintings of Madonna and Child can you look at before they all start to look just the same? Anyway, we decided to give the gallery a skip and instead strolled down to the River Arno.
We stopped to enjoy a view of Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) at the narrowest part of the river. A bridge has likely stood in this spot for millennia, but the current one dates only from 1345 - a veritable infant! It is crowded with goldsmiths' shop, which make for very interesting window-shopping as you cross over. The view up the river is also lovely - particularly today as the weather was bright and sunny and warm. The rest of the afternoon simply faded away as we walked among the back streets and alleyways of Renaissance Florence without being offered a single carpet!
November 4, 2005
Today, we covered nearly 500 kilometers between Florence and Naples. Once we were near Naples, we attempted to follow the signs to the city center - I say attempted because the signs weren't distinctive enough and weren't plentiful enough and we went in the wrong direction. We turned around and found the city center, from which we thought we could follow the directions to the hotel (the directions were downloaded from their website). But, the directions ended before we even got within sight of the hotel! So, we stopped at the Mercure Hotel and they gave us a map and drew the route to the Renaissance.
We were within a few blocks, but there is so much construction and many of the roads are closed and we took a wrong turn - this put us literally on the side of a mountain with a maze of one-way streets, barely wide enough for our little Fiat rental to pass through. It was dusk by now and we both were getting a little nervous as it wasn't the best of neighborhoods. We were particularly worried when we saw two men walking up the road toward the car - once we saw that they were carrying huge sacks full of knock-off designer hand bags, we felt a little more relaxed. These individuals are everywhere and they are much too concerned about staying safe from the Financial Police (no kidding!) to cause trouble for us. Markus had to negotiate a 5-point turn just to get around a corner onto an alley way that led out of the labyrinth.
But, we did eventually get out and got to a point where Markus left me in the double parked car and he got out to figure the way on foot. We finally pulled up in front of the hotel after 6 hours on the road. We got to our room and wanted to check our email to confirm our booking for the villa on the Amalfi Coast but the hotel had only dial-up access (we don't have a modem). Luckily, there was a Mail Boxes etc. across the street with internet access. The company that we had booked the villa with had tried to send us a fax at the hotel, which we hadn't received. I sent a quick email back and we returned to our room where the phone was ringing just as we were coming in. It was the villa company. We were able to get confirmation and directions to the villa over the phone and then we were able to rest well for the night knowing that we had somewhere to sleep tomorrow!