As I sit and write this post, I am listening to my "Italia Soundtrack". This eclectic collection of songs brings me right back to our room at Hotel Elide in Rome.
July in Rome is hot - desert hot. There was only so much walking and sightseeing I could do during the day without needing an air conditioned nap in our hotel room. (Matt, on the other hand could usually walk forever.) Our routine was to get up and go in the morning by 9 or 10 and then stay out until lunch time. Then, like all good Italians do, we'd head back to our room.
Our Italia soundtrack was formed during our daily afternoon siesta, watching the only station with some English broadcasting. Unlike the American version, MTV Italia broadcasts music videos 90 percent of the time. It was refreshing, for a time, until we noticed that their playlist was limited to the same 20 videos or so. Matt and I know know every word to "California Gurls" by Katy Perry and "Waka-Waka" by Shakira. ( I don't know if that's something I should be bragging about!) Besides the usual sugar pop, we were introduced to some new favorites like Stromae from France, the Baseballs from Germany, and the Drums from Brooklyn. (So strange that I had to go to Europe to hear the Drums!)
We spent seven days in Rome. This post would be a mile long if I wrote about all of the food, sights and art we took in, so I'll just hit some of the highlights.
- Hotel Elide: I would recommend this place to anyone. Its right in the heart of things, on via Firenze between Via Nationale and via del Quirnale, with a metro stop just 3 minutes away. The rooms are updated and clean, the staff is fun and helpful. The only thing that was less than stellar was the breakfast. You're better off heading right across the street to the Snack Bar (also a Rick Steve's pick) for an espresso and brioche.
- Baroque art in churches: The Catholic churches that seem to be on every corner, are truly best place to see Baroque art, and its free! Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa (above), Caravaggio's Conversion of St. Paul, The Calling of St. Matthew, and several other of his works line the walls of these churches. It seems ridiculous, but the lighting on these works is better than in Rome's showplace museum, The Borghese Gallery. In the Caravaggio room at the Borghese, you can't stand in one place and view the whole Madonna dei Palafrenieri at once. That's just bad! The churches are also great places to duck out of the heat for a bit too.
- Borghese Park: Just 2 metro stops away, we spent quite a bit of time walking around this park, once the private property and home of the Borghese family. It's lush and shady, with miles of paved paths for walking or biking. When you get hot or tired, there are plenty of little carts and even a full blown cafe to grab a Pepsi or a Peroni. (You can buy alcohol anywhere in Italy, even from the street vendor.) Matt and I liked to go to the park to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
- Fifa Fan Fest: While walking around Borghese park, we came across the Fifa Fan Fest cite. Rome was one of 6 international cities to host the event. Every World Cup match was shown on a huge screen and was free and open to the public. We decided to head down one afternoon to watch a match. As we walked through the park towards the cite, we worried that we may have gotten the time wrong. The park was dead silent! We approached the fan fest grounds and found thousands of people sitting silently, enthralled in the game. It was so different than any other sporting event I've watched in my life. The spectators were so into the game that there was little time for talking or drinking. We sat down on the ground at the top of the hill with hundreds of others and watched. It was sweltering hot, but a great experience.
- The Roman Forum: We got lucky and visited the Forum on an overcast day, so Matt and I could really enjoy and explore this fantastic cite. The Forum was the heart of ancient Rome, both politically and socially. We walked along original Roman streets paved with huge stones that had also been walked on by the likes of Julius Caesar and Augustus. Rick Steves, our travel guru, gave us a guided tour via his podcast, that Matt had downloaded onto is Iphone. I just don't know how to explain how amazing it was to walk amidst these beautiful and iconic architectural marvels, made almost 2000 years ago.
- In the foreground here you see an ancient Roman arch, and in the background a baroque era church. You find vignettes like this all over Rome, where old and new collides and even exists on top of one another. For instance, the ancient ruins of the Baths of Diocletian, dedicated in 306, were converted by Michelangelo into the Renaissance Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli. The bath's ancient walls are integrated into and are preserved by this church. I didn't take any pictures inside of the church, but did take the shot below of the exterior.
- Al Bric: Now, did you really think I could write an entire blog post about Rome and not mention the food? On our last night in Rome, we decided to splurge and headed to the Michelin rated Osteria Enoteca al Bric. (Yet again, Rick Steves did not disappoint.) To start, we drank wine from Montalcino (a stop on our Tuscan tour) and ate mussels baked in their shell with bread crumbs and Roquefort. Matt and I both had delectable fresh pastas with seafood, and we finished the meal with espresso and homemade vanilla ice cream flavored with acacia honey. Divine dining!