Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Agony and the Ecstasy

The Agony of da feet


Walking 12-14,000 cobblestone steps a day can prove to be quite agonizing, however, once you reach a monument, fountain or breathtaking statue like Bernini's "The Ecstasy of St Theresa" in one of 900 + basilicas/churches, you are reinvigorated and energized to find your next work of art.  It is the end of our 3rd week here in Roma Italy and we are over-awed. It seems we turn every corner and run into another fountain, piazza, monument, basilica, villa, pallaccio, that fills us with "Wow"!!!

One of the nice improvements with travel today vs 32 years ago is technology and walking apps, information, maps etc. After using some crummy "Lets Go Europe" book then, to now having experts of art and history on your iPad as well as navigation to get there, it is quite a difference. We still get lost, but that is when we stumble into something we had not planned, and many times more memorable for being found.
Wander into St Peter's - a treasure trove of art - Michelangelo's famous marble statue La Pieta.  Look up and you can see more Michelangelo and Bernini and other Renaissance and Baroque artists -  St. Peter's is of course the most famous basilica - but there are more, walk into any church and you will see the most magnificent frescoes, reliefs, mosaics, this being how the artists of the day made their living.
Of course the artists of today include the pizzerias and gelaterias and for a very small price, you get to experience the local gastronomic artisans at work. They do call the gelato creators Artisional for a reason.

One of Bernini's  works of sculpture the "Ecstasy of Saint Teresa".  located in the Cornaro Chapel of Santa Maria della Vittoria.  He called this "his most beautiful creation".  This picture does not do it justice -how does one sculpt marble to show such emotion and movement? 

For many, coming to Rome is a Pilgrimage and as one of the most visited cities in the world there is no such thing as an off-season here. There will always be a line to visit St Peter's  - it is free and definitely worth the wait.  There are churches everywhere - almost like the fountains you find all over Rome, sometimes you see 2 churches on the same block.  We tried to stop in as many as we could - didn't hit all 900, but by accident we did go into some small churches that had some amazing art work such as a Caravaggio chapel, sculptures by Michelangelo that  I never heard of, and elaborate Bernini tombs.  A stop in a quiet church was a great way to recharge our tired feet and fill our souls with awe.

A few of our favorite churches:

St. Peters the greatest work of Renaissance Architecture - designed and improved upon by many - Bramante, Michelangelo, Maderno and Bernini.  A famous place of pilgrimage, 500,000 people will sit in St. Peters Square during the Easter Services.  During elections of Popes there can be up to 4 million people lining the surrounding streets.  Yikes!  Talk about Agony of the Streets!

View from the top of Saint Peter's.   Visiting a church is free, but there is a cost for a view - worth it!

Saint Peter's Basilica.  Michelangelo's fingerprints are all over this church.  Pope John Paul XXIII top right is buried in glass in St Peters (a little spooky), but a Pope I do remember growing up in Catholic School.
Agony for these tourists waiting in line to get in to St. Peters.  (we knew when to visit without the lines)

Michelangelo though from Florence, came to Rome and created some of his greatest masterpieces.  At age 23 the Pieta, his first masterpiece, can be found in St. Peters.  So crazy to think at his age that he understood things so deeply and was able to transform a piece of hard marble  into something so profound

 Before visiting the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican Museum, we watched The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone.....The ceiling became more alive after seeing this movie again.  5,000 square feet of frescoes and over 300 painted figures on the ceiling - we spent over an hour with inclined necks marveling at this work of wonder.
I was able to sneak a picture of the Sistine Chapel before getting caught by security.  One feels  Ecstasy  seeing this magnificent kaleidoscope of art by Michelangelo that he is probably best know for.   Michelangelo delighted in the naked human body, after he died one of his pupils was ordered to paint draperies over the many genitals and buttocks.  (What prudes!)

After a  long is not a sin to enjoy the ecstasy of gelato.  

The original Pantheon was destroyed in an earthquake and was restored in the 3rd century as  a temple that was filled with pagan statues and where animal sacrifices were carried out under the oculus.  When pagan worship was outlawed  it was the first pagan temple to become a christian church. The walls of the Pantheon are filled with tombs including the artist Raphael. 

Basilica of Saint John Lateran is the first church to be built in Rome.
This immense cathedral is the official seat of the Pope,  just not quite as nice as the Vatican where he is now.  Supposedly the altar is the table used during the last supper.

Images from different churches we were in.  Top right is a Michelangelo "The Risen Christ" (a gold loin cloth was put over the statues genitals and not by Michelangelo)  Center are Caravaggio paintings on an altar.  Bottom left are tombs that are found under many altars that seem to be in quite a few churches.

The Vatican Swiss Guards -  I don't know if it's agony for them to be wearing these uniforms supposedly  designed by Michelangelo.  I don't believe Michelangelo would have put so much clothing on these guards, maybe it was Raphael...


Sunday, March 23, 2014


After spending 3 weeks in a Rome apartment that fit the budget and in a good location, but definitely not luxury, we decided to treat ourselves to an anniversary night at the Fontana Hotel facing Trevi Fountain. A very nice day at the beautiful Bourghese Gallery discovering more Bernini masterpieces followed by a delicious dinner at a family trattoria and finishing with a stroll with some more tasty gelato. I am not sure how the Bella Donna in my life puts up with me, but I am happy for every day.

The Bourghese Villa, Linguine with Salmon, Pasta alla Grecia and breakfast with a view, Happy Anniversary.

32 years ago we did the traditional "throw the coin from your right hand backwards over your left shoulder and you will be guaranteed a return to Rome"  It took us 32 years - but the legend was right -  we returned, and for a lot longer!  My bell'uomo, we put up with each other - but you will always be l'amore della mia vita!

I was trying to show a view from our room when a Neptune wannabe got in the way.  Then I read this about how Neptune was described: "The body is muscular inclining to fatness....." 

This magical fountain has been the backdrop in many movies and I'm sure has contributed to the allure of this place.  The most famous of these  is Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" (The sweet life), where Anita Eckberg jumps into the the fountain calling "Marcello..Marcello..."   (I wanted to do that so bad, but too many polizia guard the fountain now -and  they probably think this homeless person is trying to steal the coins from the fountain). There is a 2nd legend inspired from the Oscar winning movie (1954) "Three Coins in the Fountain"which says you must throw three coins into the fountain: the first one guarantees your return to Rome, the second leads to a new romance, while the third will lead to marriage. (we only threw in one coin thank goodness-  when you travel every penny counts).  Then there's "Roman Holiday", "To Rome with Love".... and many more.....

Trevi by night.....

Trevi by day......

Trevi at 6 am when the Polizia are away......

The Trevi Fountain is the largest baroque fountain in Rome.  The central figure is Neptune (god of the sea) planked by 2 Tritons - a young one that struggles to master a wild seahorse and an older Triton with a tame seahorse symbolizing the contrasting moods of the sea.  To the right and left of Neptune are statues of Abundance and Health, and the 2 reliefs show Agrippa building the aqueduct and the other the Virgin lady indicating to soldiers where the source of water is.

Besides the world famous Trevi Fountain, there are magnificent fountains everywhere you turn.  For over 2,000 years fountains and the piazzas they are in have not only provided drinking water but have been gathering places for the people of Rome.  There are probably 50 monument fountains and hundreds of others scattered throughout the city.  A few of our favorites:

The Fountains of St. Peter's Square, the fountain above was created by Carlo Maderno.  The second fountain (not shown) in the square is by Bernini. (Bernini was also the architect that designed St. Peter's Square where the fountains are)

The Fontana del Pantheon, in the center of the fountain is an Egyptian obelisk.  The fountain was constructed by Giacomo della Porto in 1575, and the obelisk was added to it in 1711.  I love the backdrop of this fountain.

The Triton Fountain at Piazza Barberini is by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.  The Triton is blowing his horn to calm the waters. ( Bernini is a sculptor, artist, architect - a genius since a child, and anything he has done captivates me)

The Fountain of the Naiads on Piazza della Repubblica.  The center is Glaucus, the Water God surrounded by four naiads which represent the rivers, the oceans, the lakes, and the underground waters.  This is said to be the most sensual fountain in Rome and of course Richard's favorite.

There are 3 fountains in the Piazza Navona.   The Fountain of the Rivers by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (another Bernini - this beautiful fountain is my favorite), The Fountain of the Moor by Bernini and della Porta, and The Fountain of the Neptune also by Giacomo della Porta.

Of course, we can't overlook the 2,500 unique drinking fountains found all through Rome called "nasonis"  The water is fresh, cold, and safe to drink saving money on buying bottled water!

"There is a fountain of youth:  it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love.  When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age"
Sofia Loren

"Look within.  Within is the fountain of good, and it will ever bubble up, if thou wilt ever dig"
Marcus Aurelius

Thursday, March 13, 2014

FAT TUESDAY in Rome...

You may have thought when you read the title we were going to be talking about a Mardi Gras/Carnival type celebration in Italy. Well we could, we were here for it, but what we are referring to is that we landed in Rome on Saturday and we were FAT by Tuesday. We were here 32 years ago come this April and neither of us can remember being assaulted by gastronomic goodies as we have been this visit. Foodie Heaven and seriously, if you call yourself a "Foodie" you must find some way to make it to this holy land of pasta, seasonings, and storefront after storefront of Trattorias, Gelaterias, Pasterias, Bakeries and on and on and they don't give you even a street or piazza to digest that last perfect slice of Quattro Stagioni before another incredible aroma calls your name. Aaaahh...

I understand there were some kids in masks and confetti was being thrown all about the place but really, unless it was landing on my Spaghetti alla Carbonara, I wasn't going to notice.

Mama Molisana and her melanzana, (eggplant in Italian) we ran into her when she was buying gelato for her granddaughter and the owner of the gelataria told us Mama made the best food in the neighborhood...we totally agree, never have I tasted eggplant in different preparations and they all taste better than I have ever had before. All her vegetables are so tasty, and fantastic pizza. Aahhhh.
We walk about 12,000 steps a day, not for the exercise - but are led by the smells of the city.

So lucky to be in this city for a month.  We got to our small apartment in the Prati neighborhood -  it took us less than an hour to settle in with our 1 suitcase, and since the sun was out we left the apartment and started to wander.....we  are within walking distance to the Vatican and St. Peters, but still bought a monthly bus and metro pass (35 euros) for ease of getting around to explore and see all the sights.  The first sight we were interested in as Richard said, was finding the nearest Pizzeria!  This was not too difficult since there are Pizzerias all around us, the difficult part was choosing which one to go into.  Ok ok, we have to slow down and pace ourselves - a month here can be dangerous.......and Rich, speak for yourself  when you said WE were fat by Tuesday - for was Friday....

We spent the first week putting together our itinerary for the month what to see when - finding out when museums had free entrance dates etc.  The weather was beautiful the first week and we spent most of our time outdoors, exploring the piazzas and walking the neighborhoods.  The city has a wonderful artistic feel to it - the colors of the buildings look like impressionistic paintings, its no wonder artists abound here...

Our 2nd day here we had take away pizza for breakfast and lunch, then a sit down at dinner with wine.
Pizza al taglio or rustica is the take out pizza sold everywhere in Italy.  The pizza is sold by weight and cooked on a sheet pan- so yummy - most are cut sandwich style so you can take away and walk while eating.
Ordering a pizza at dinner is not meant for sharing - one orders their own individual pizza and after one bite, you do not want to share and I guarantee you will not ask for a doggie bag.

Like the Pizzerias, Gelaterias are everywhere,  in fact Italy has over 35,000 Gelato shops with 3,000 + in Rome. The history of Gelato dates back to the 16th century with the court of the Medici in Florence holding a contest to discover a plate no one has ever seen.  A Florentine cook Bernardo Buontalenti won the contest.   One of the differences between Gelato and US ice cream is that it is churned at a lower speed and not as much air is whipped into the mixture so it is denser.  Also, only 5% to 8% butter fat vs US 10%-15%.  That's why we can have it everyday it's not fattening!- so yes, the first week it was our dessert of choice each day.

Our first week in Rome we spent walking through the parks and piazzas understanding each of the neighborhoods and people watching.   Rome is a hectic city and the locals enjoy their parks and piazzas to relax, catch up with family and friends, and maybe make-out a little.  

Best restaurant of the week Vecchia Roma.  A basement trattoria in the San Giovanni area of Rome.

I ordered the specialty of the house Bucatini al'lAmatriciana  flambe with bacon and Richard the Pizza Capricciosa.  My Bucatini was made special by the big pecorino wheel that Fabrizio (our waiter) tossed my pasta into.  It was the most tasteful and richest sauce I have ever sopped up the last of my Italian bread with.  

P.S. An Italian would never use a spoon to eat pasta - that's good news because I have never used a spoon to eat  spaghetti - I'm just sorry I wore a white blouse.  As you can tell by the picture, Rich loved his Pizza too.....
We will be back!

What a great week!
Quello che una grande settimana!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Why We Love Greece

Typical Athens street - Tangerine Trees everywhere

One of our goals is to experience what a middle class local lifestyle is like in our travels, and the only way that can be done is by spending time in a city.  When you tell some people (even Athenians) you are spending 2 months in Athens they look at you like you are crazy, and if we were on vacation or in the summer I suppose we would be. However, when you leave 35 degree ( 2-3 Celsius) of Vienna and all of Europe is under storm clouds, being in Athens in the winter at 60-65 degrees is very nice.  Additionally, when you stay over a month in winter the rental price is cut dramatically and the tourists are few. Where we are staying is a beautiful condo on a hill, (that's the tough part) in a nice neighborhood. 
The following link from Athens Guide is a nice description of where we live.

Since we have been here for 2 months, we were able to do things leisurely - no rushing around to see all the tourist attractions.   We went to all the museums ( Cycladic, Archeology, Benake ,Byzantine, and others, all very nice), walk the open food markets ( fresh fish is my favorite), and as movie buffs - we still went to the Cinema ( watching American movies with Greek sub-titles, ie. "American Hustle" in Athens is a different experience) which has a 2 for 1 on Wed-Thurs €7 :-) Our daily exercise was spent walking around and exploring parts of the city we would not have been able to do if we were here for a short time.

Athens is a perfect spot for over-night trips to Delphi, Peloponnese, Island hopping, Istanbul etc..

To our neighborhood Grocer, Barrista, Gyros King, Restaurants, we have become regulars, not tourists and their help with the language, their smiles and generous nature is a very special part of our journey.

So much easier to see in pictures why we loved being in Greece:  

Loved Athen's museums - the city's museums are underrated, what is inside is spectacular.

For our Swine and Dine members, here are a few of our favorites....

Love everything about olives here! 
In ancient Greece, the olive tree was sacred and olive oil was the elixir of the gods.  100 different types of olive trees are cultivated in Greece.  Trees can live to be over 100 years old with the oldest 1000 years old!
  Personally, I love the black salty wrinkled olive called Thassos olives,  the world famous extra virgin olive oil that was used generously on food, and of course all the olive soaps and creams I packed to take with me! 

Loved all the fresh food and eating fresh caught fish!  It was fun walking the downtown fish and meat markets and hearing the animated selling of  what seemed all the same product.

Close your eyes when you taste fresh Greek Style fried calamari or Kalamarakia Tiganita - the taste when fried in olive oil with lots of lemons, transports you back to a Greek Island..... oh that's right - we are in Greece, and speaking of islands.....

....Love the Islands!  Greece has over 2,000 islands.
A quiet visit to the Island of Hydra where no motor vehicles are allowed,  just the heehawing of donkeys as they try to pass each other on the cobble-stoned streets

Love the Sunsets.  This one is on the island of Poros, 

We love the Greek Tavernas - It feels like your own family's restaurant.

To quote a modernAuthor/ Philosopher Roman Krznaric  "....When we go to a foreign city, we visit the monuments, but the real monuments are the people...putting oneself in someone else's shoes and seeing the world through their eyes...that's the meaning of the journey and the things that open up our minds."

We dedicate this part of the post to the wonderful Greek people we have met and made our 2 month stay enjoyable...

Voula our neighbor, always had a smile and a hello and how are you.  So kind  - when I was sick she brought me soup!

 Maria is a volunteer that teaches Greek to immigrants and people like us.  
Greek has been spoken for more than 3,000 years, making it one of the oldest languages in Europe. 
 Unfortunately for us, we got as far as the alphabet and flunked out.  (we now literally understand the idiom "It's all Greek to me")

Named after the goddess Artemis - she made our afternoon cappuccino.  She taught us some Greek and we taught her some English.  She learned much quicker than we did!

Pantelis Melissinos is a well known artist and a 3rd generation Ancient Greek Sandal Maker.
He is crafting our sandals in the picture above.  It's one of those things when you visit Greece you better make room in your suitcase for.  30 plus years ago we did the same thing but bought from his Dad!

Our neighborhood market vendor taught us how to count out our money when purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables.  "Enna, Vio, Tria, Tesora, Pente".  We shopped twice a week and more times than not - he would add more to our bags after we gave him an Enna.

Chrisoula, the owner of Hotel Ganimede in Galaxidi, not only fed us the best Greek Breakfast we have eaten,  she changed our eating habits - every morning for breakfast we have
Greek Yogurt, honey and fruit!
The spirit of Greek people and their food.  We were invited into the kitchen to watch our lunch being made.  Next to the sunset, the best part of our trip to the Island of Poros!

George, our neighborhood Taverna owner was so welcoming and generous.  He wanted us to try everything he made that day - and of course we did not say no! 

Nikos and Sandy Karipidis owners of the apartment we rented. 
Nikos and Sandy took us to dinner where Nikos ordered all his favorite Greek dishes that we tasted for the first time - an amazing treat for us.  Highly educated, he gave us our lesson in ancient and modern Greek life over a dinner where the food did not end!  No, we didn't solve the problems of today over our meal -  Nikos left it as "We Greeks are survivors - we've had the best of times and the worst of times the last 5000 years, we will survive our current problems and come back stronger- we aren't going anywhere." 

Unfortunately for us - it is time for us to go so
Σας και αντίο Ελλάδα ευχαριστώ