Filed under: Architecture, Art, Italy, Travel | Tags: art, blogging, Campo de' Fiori, Capitoline Hill, Hercules, Italy, jim downey, Marcellus, Piazza Navona, Portunus, Rome, travel
We walked back to the hotel. Amy left us to see to some other arrangements. We made tentative plans to meet for dinner later.
Yeah, a lot later. In Rome, you don’t eat dinner until 9 or 10 PM. Seriously. Restaurants don’t even open until about 8:30, and most of them won’t make reservations before 9. In this it reminded me a lot of Buenos Aires. In other ways, too. More on that in a future travelog.
Anyway, we went back to the hotel, dropped off bags. Steve needed to pop out to make dinner reservations for the group at one of the places we had checked out that afternoon. I decided to walk through a short private path from our hotel over to the Campo de’ Fiori – a nice little square about a block away which has a daily market of mostly food items. Here it is:
I sat at one of the outdoor tables of one of the half dozen little restaurants around the square, ordered a beer. I just wanted to sit and rest my feet a while, watch the last of the merchants clear up their stuff from the day’s market, try and take everything in. I had only been in the country about 8 hours, but I felt surprisingly comfortable there. “Surprisingly” because with just a couple weeks notice before going I had no time to learn more than a few survival phrases of Italian and very little background information beyond what I already knew.
But even so, I felt much more at home than I expected. Italy is different than any place I’ve been previously, but it is still a fundamentally European culture, one which resonates with other places. Even the language is fairly easy to understand, at least in the written form. Oh, I couldn’t read the newspaper, let alone a book, in Italian, but scanning signs and menus wasn’t difficult. And at least in Rome almost everyone had some English language. It was easy to get along.
Happily, Steve was able to make the reservations quickly, and joined me on the Campo before I finished my first beer. We ordered another round and enjoyed the late afternoon as it turned into early evening.
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After showers and relaxing in the room, we met Amy to head out to dinner. This would be the pattern for most of the rest of the trip: shower in the morning when you got up. If you were really stomping around in the morning, grab another quick shower before the afternoon adventures. Then back to relax a bit before dinner, getting another shower before heading out.
Why so much? Well, Rome was sweltering. It was mid-July. Temps in the low-mid 90s, humidity somewhere around 80%, and not much in the way of air exchange in the city. All those buildings with narrow streets, dark grey cobblestones, throngs of people and vehicles built and held the heat of the day. It wasn’t until well into the evening before things even started cooling off. I think this is part of the reason why the Italians eat so late – before then, it’s just too damned hot. And remember, AC is fairly uncommon.
Anyway. We hiked over to the river (the Tiber), I think to the SW of our hotel, though I hadn’t gotten my bearings in Rome yet. Crossed over, and in a few more blocks to a little place Steve knew.
Interesting place. We were able to get a corner table inside. It had an almost ‘country kitsch’ decor – light blue & white wallpaper, red checked tablecloths – and they specialized in a particular pasta dish which we all ordered: a kind of ‘mac & cheese’ made using spaghetti noodles and incredible fresh Parmesan cheese. It’s made such that there’s a bowl of crispy Parmesan which is free standing, and the cheese and noodles are contained within it. Paired with a nice wine – heaven.
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The next morning Steve and Amy were off to meet the class for the first time, using a nearby classroom facility which was part of the University of Washington campus in Rome. I got up, had breakfast, got started with my day.
Breakfast. Not a big deal in Italy, from what I saw both in Rome and then later. The hotel had the same items out every day: various cold cereals, yogurt, a couple types of breakfast pastry, a small selection of cold cheeses and meats. There was also a couple types of juice, usually tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs. Coffee made to order. Perfectly fine, but not nearly as big a deal as all the other meals.
I decided to strike out and explore the nearby area around the hotel. It was daylight, I had a small map from the hotel, and figured that setting out almost randomly would be fun. Just a couple blocks north I found this:
The Piazza Navona one of the larger public spaces in the old part of the city, built (Steve later told me) on the site of a Roman stadium. In the cool morning it was mostly empty, just a few artists starting to set up their informal booths and a couple groups of Japanese tourists.
After the tight spaces of the streets of Rome, I enjoyed just walking around the piazza, looking at the various buildings which lined it, enjoying the massive central fountain and the two smaller ones on each end.
One curious little thing I hadn’t noticed in the Campo the day before: it was common for the artists/merchants to anchor their displays using long thick nails driven into the ground in the space between the cobblestones. A quick and effective anchor, which didn’t damage the surface at all.
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From the Piazza Navona I continued north until I hit the river, then I walked along its banks for a while, just taking in the vistas of the city around me. Rome needs a bit of distance to appreciate fully, distance which you usually can’t get on the smaller streets of the city center.
After a couple of hours I made my way back to the hotel. Again the heat of the day had soaked into me, and me into my clothes. A shower and a fresh change of clothes was in order before I met the others for the afternoon activities.
* * * * * * *
We met outside the hotel. I had met a couple of the others in passing the afternoon before and that morning at breakfast (the students didn’t need to be over to the classroom quite as early as Steve and Amy did, since they had to set up tables and whatnot in advance of the first meeting). Everyone was surprisingly welcome and accepting of me – a politeness which I wondered whether would hold up in the course of two weeks travel.
The first thing we did was head over to the district of the former Ghetto for lunch and a bit of history on the place.
All the subsequent meals we took as a group were semi-communal: at restaurants we’d order individually, but share freely back and forth so that people could enjoy a wider variety of dishes. When we ate at the villa down south, the meals were served ‘family style’. As a result, I couldn’t begin to remember all the different things I had a chance to try on the trip, and I didn’t make extensive notes. I did get a copy of the villa’s in-house cookbook, and I’ll share some recipes from it later.
After a quite enjoyable lunch we traipsed off to see Rome’s oldest forum: the Forum Boarium. We stopped along the way to enjoy views of Rome’s first bridges across the Tiber, as well as a bit of history of the Island. Here are images of the Temples of Hercules
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From there we went north, skirting along the base of the base of the Capitoline hill, pausing to look at excavations currently underway in the Forum Holitorium
then past the Theater of Marcellus:
and then up to the Capitoline Hill. Climbing the long, sloping terrace/steps up to the top of the hill, we had a damned impressive view of the city to the west and north.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon exploring the Capitoline Museums .
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We made our collective way back to the hotel, where everyone showered and relaxed a bit before going out to dinner.
At dinner, as at lunch, I made a point of sitting with a new group of people. It was important to me to get to know the other members of the tour, to try and connect with them. Fortunately, this was pretty easy. In spite of my not knowing anything about Latin or teaching, they were all well skilled in working with new people. And the shared adventure we were on was a common denominator for all.
It was well past 10:00 before we left the restaurant. I, for one, was damned glad I didn’t need to attend a workshop starting at 8:30 AM.
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