Friday, February 29, 2008

Rome 3 (West), where the best squares and magnificent views are to be had

If you ask me where my favorite place in Rome is, it would have to be the western part. No doubt. Of course, I loved the ruins in the south but in this area there is not a single café terrace to sit back, relax, and watch the world go by. Well what can I do, I am a fervent disciple of these café terraces. I just love them! I love it more when they are located in raging and bustling squares. Oh, just fun!
Okay, I am not bashful to put this up and I hope this picture won’t classify my blog as porn, lol. At any rate there seems to be a massive obsession in Italy about the male’s testicles? The statues are not enough, they have to mass print and produce them on boxer shorts, and mind you, even on kitchen aprons too. I was torn at the idea of buying this as a souvenir for the Dutchman but he’ll probably come back to me and say he isn’t macho and I’m just wasting my money?
Many travel books and forums often harp about them as THE must-be-avoided-places aka THE tourist traps, because a few meters away on the corner of the street, food and drinks will be sold at half the price on the menu. Okay, fine. We all know that the guest here pays for the prime location where 50% of the value of the tab goes to the ambience, seriously. I guess I am one of those stupid tourists that has a weak spot for these. I fall for these tourist traps because I literally search for a table to sit in these places.

Now, with that said, in this entry we will be talking a lot about beautiful and lively piazzas, plazas, squares, or in Dutch, plein(en). All of them are unique and matchless, but of course I have my own favorite. In the later part, we will also touch base on the magnificent views of Rome from the top!

Piazza Campo di Fiori (in English it means ‘field of flowers’)

Campo di Fiori with the statue of the heretical monk, Giordano Bruno who was gagged, tied naked to a pole, and burned at stake in this square in Feb 1600. This is what happens to those who go against the Roman Catholic Church during the Middle Ages.
This piazza is quite different from the customary city squares in Rome because this particular square hosts a market daily except on Sundays. On Sunday, the best place to go to is the Porta Portese (flea) market at the back of Trastevere, which I didn’t get to visit because I was somewhere else on a Sunday morning – attending 2 masses (ha-ha, I know quite a feat, unbelievable!), but I will talk about this on my Rome (East) entry.

An old woman checking out the vegetables and stacks of herbs!

A stall selling a variety of produce. And what is that on the basket? Purple witlof? Trevigiano? (what is this in English?)

Lemons in a basket, free tasting with the vendors and pomodori secchi (sun dried tomatoes)

Cocktail Bar Campo de Fiori 38 - a nice cafe restaurant in the sidelines of the piazza with views to the market.

Markets always excite me. I don’t know why? Maybe it’s the colours, the smell, the people, or perhaps because of the high energy the place vibrates. I can’t point a finger at this really but every time I am in a busy market, it always thrills me like I am back as a little girl having her first Barbie doll. There’s just something marvelous about markets and just being there.

As well as I am far from being a connoisseur, although I’d like to think I am, ha-ha, but I did my usual mandatory market inspection. I am a curious cat and curious cats always get their prize. I bought some herbs mix for pasta – arrabiata, puttanesca, and carbonara (the Dutchman loves his pasta), and also pomodori secchi, sun dried tomatoes, great for salads.

Piazza Navona (just a few blocks from Campo di Fiori)

Piazza Navona was once a horse racing track that’s why it’s laid out in a very peculiar rectangular-oblong shape. It’s one of the beautiful and bouncing piazzas in Rome with the typical Mediterranean earth toned buildings flanking on the sides. The imposing Sant’ Agnese in Agone church in the middle that looks like a state building or a palace can’t also be missed.

There are 2 important fountains in this piazza and both were designed by Bernini, the Fiumi and Moro fountains. I like the Moro more than the Fiumi, but as mentioned in my first entry of Rome (North), my favorite fountain in Rome, which also is a Bernini work, is the Barcaccia fountain in Piazza di Spagna by the Spanish Steps.

Piazza Navona on a bright beautiful sunny day with many artists displaying their wares for sale. On the next foto is Fiumi fountain.

Me in the center of the piazza and that is the Moro fountain, another Bernini creation.

What I also love about Piazza Navona are the paintings for sale scattered randomly in the square. The whole display exudes not only a sublime and very artistic tempting ambiance, but also of life. The colors of the paintings brought life to Piazza Navona. Just fabulous.

I am obviously bitten by the place, so naturally I went searching for a café to sit down. Well, I am here to report that in Piazza Navona, I had one expensive ordinary glass of white wine. €8, for an ordinary glass of white wine.

Piazza della Rotunda (my favorite)

A few blocks away from Piazza Navona you can find another treasure hidden in the maze of dark cobble stoned alleys edged with tall old grubby looking buildings but oozing a distinct esthetic charming aura, the Piazza della Rotunda – my favorite piazza in all of Rome!

Piazza della Rotunda with the obelisk fountain and the Pantheon -from Greek meaning ‘Temple of all the gods’ was built in the 1st century by Hadrianus, and said that earlier structure was built by Agrippa in 27-30 B.C. which was later destroyed in 80 A.D.

What makes this piazza special? (I just found out today that this is also Dutch mother’s favorite piazza in Roma.)

Well, firstly, there’s the celebrated and impressive Pantheon that serves as the focal point of the place. Secondly, you have the pretty, trendy, and inviting café terraces bordering around the periphery of the piazza. Thirdly, it is a small square and because this is a popular area, the place is visited by so many people that it generates a lot of activity, a lot of spirit, which I like.

The Pantheon which means, ‘to every god’ is a Roman temple built in 126 A.D. upon orders by Marcus Agrippa.

The facade of the imposing Pantheon and the interior of this magnificent dome structure.

Caprese in Piazza della Rotunda - the salt & pepper and the extra virgin olive oil have yet to arrive, so while waiting, I am obligated to take this foto ;-)

I havent had lunch so grabbed the best seat in the piazza, right in front of the Pantheon and ordered caprese and some Italian dry white wine. Lovely day, lovely place, lovely food, it was just lovely to sit there for a while.

Castel Sant'Angelo (great views to Rome and Tiber)

For the finale, another great place to sit back, relax, throw away your cares, and most importantly, have awesome breathtaking views of Rome, and this is the cherry topping for this entry by the way, is the circular shaped Castel Sant’ Angelo across the Tiber River (this castle is very near to the Vatican City, which will have its own entry later).

Castel Sant’ Angelo was built in 130 A.D. by Hadrianus and was finished by Antoninus Pius in 139 A.D. The castle with the beautiful bridge sits on the western part of Rome along Tevere. On the topmost of the castle is the bronze statue of Michael the archangel.

Left foto is St. Paul's Loggia. Middle foto, Alexander’s staircase built through the midway section of the castle acts a drawbridge which can be removed when there are attackers. Right foto is the bronze statue of Arcangel Michael.

Canonballs in the inner courtyard of the castle. And a view down to the most beautiful bridge in Rome. When I was there, there was a movie crew filming at the foot of the bridge.

This castle hide a very rich and tumultuous past, a past that made this ancient edifice versatile just like the Colosseum. It evolved throughout the times, centuries, with every occupant, serving the purpose brought down upon her. Here are her main historical highlights: housed Hadrianus’ mausoleum, was once part of the Aurelian wall, served as fortress and prison base during the Middle Ages, and was also a residence of the pope for a time.

So much history the walls of this castle speaks! Yes it does, that is if you listen carefully, and only to those, I believe, who chooses to listen too ;-)

View down to the Vittorio Emmanuel Bridge and the Tiber River. Next foto is the skyline of Rome.

Castel Sant’ Angelo, now a monument flies the Italian flag is facing the Tevere (Tiber River) and the epicenter of Rome.

More pictures can be found here: Rome (West), Italy

The entrance fee to the castle is €7. The access hall is an interesting one as when you enter it from the foyer, you are lead and literally thrown into a narrow winding path with stone-clad walls that leads upwards to Alexander’s stairs, a wooden staircase, more like a ramp, that connects midway to the upper part of the castle, and which could be removed when there is an invasion making it impossible for attackers to reach the top. Upon reaching the upper part of this wooden ramp, you get out to an inner courtyard where from there you can step outside into the castle’s open-air corridors that offers fantastic rooftop views of the city.

There is also a bar on top of the castle which is quite romantic. In some of the quarters there are exhibitions going on – of paintings, of sculptures, of different media art such as film and sound compositions.

One can spend hours here, just sitting on the ramparts watching the city. Best time to come here is at dusk when the blue skies metamorphose into a fiery red, orange, and yellow mixture and a few minutes later slowly turning into midnight black with tiny dots of lights speckled across the evening skyline. They say Rome is the eternal city but I see her as a clever, experienced, feisty, resistant, and beautiful woman that aged gracefully and regally.

Travel Period: February 2008
Destination: Rome, Italy

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Rome 2 (South), the ruins, and Filipinos everywhere

Rome is literally a grand open-air museum. In every corner you walk into you will stumble upon some ancient buildings or important relics. My History of Art professor would have been very proud of me for this Rome trip. After all, his 2 years worth of teachings didn’t go down the drain. In fact they haunted me as I have now become a self confessed history buff.

In 72 A.D Vespasianus commissioned the construction of the Colosseum. Fights between gladiators and animals were their version of reality show - the feast of 100 days. A lot of Christians were also martyred in the amphitheater and the Pope visits the Colosseum yearly to commemorate the trials and tribulations of the early Christians during the dark middle ages.

For those of you that didn’t know, I have a bachelors degree in Fine Arts and a license to practice Interior Design in my previous life (its a mystery why I ended up now in business and IT-Information Technology). I spent the first 2 years of my degree laying down the fundamental building blocks of art, architecture, and history, and the ultimate dream of every art student is to visit the ancient ruins that formed our civilization today and rekindle, even for just a little bit, the spirit of how it was to live back in the olden days.

This Roman soldier (or gladiator?) tricked me for €5! He reeked with smoke and his naughty grin sent shivers down my spine especially when he thanked me and kissed my hand as if he is making love to it. EWW! What an icky feeling, what an icky man.

Let’s talk back briefly about my History of Art professor, and let’s call him professor Lays. How shall I begin? Well, professor Lays... the petulant, arrogant, serious, tiny, thin man with small round glasses reminds me of grouchy Mr. Scrooge but in a sardonic and funny way. Another person that comes to mind when I think of him is the Dutch critic, writer, and cabaretier, Youp van ‘t Hek.

Inside the Colosseum ruins.

During class, he would talk about the Neolithic period, the Baroque period, or the Medieval Renaissance Period for an entire hour non-stop until the bell rings. Some of us would be staring at him with glazed eyes and mouths wide open. Not really awed at his magnificent history of art homily but just bored (and daydreaming) at his lengthy monologue. At times he would stop in the middle of his lecture and crack a joke at the expense of the student he picks on, “Na-unsa man ka diha [insert name here], nganong nag nga-nga man ka? Masudlan gani na ug tiki imong baba, na matuk-an jud ka. Mamatay ka!”

[In English: What’s wrong with you [insert name here]? Why is your mouth wide open? Careful, a tiny lizard might drop (from the ceiling) into your mouth and choke you. You’d be dead meat!] – LOL, it’s funnier in Bisaya!

Here is a short clip of the Colosseum from the inside. Enjoy!

The Arch of Constantine was erected during the 3rd century is just right outside the Colosseum. This could be considered the first Christian monument as Constantine paved the way for the union of state and religion in the Roman Empire. The road you see where a lot of people are going to leads to the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill ruins.

Uh-huh. That is indeed very typical of Professor Lays. He always has something of satirical nature to say to anyone, quite like his trademark – giving candid rude joking statements. He was in his 50’s, with a wife and a daughter, but he was rumored to be gay. Bless his soul. I think he liked being an art teacher.

A frieze panel detail on the side arch pillars depicting the life and victories of Constantine - very pretty!

My college years were eventful years. Being the free spirited that I am, and stubborn sometimes, I did what I wanted in school – just having fun really. I was the popular with average grades type of girl, but one day I just made up my mind and took schooling seriously.

This prompted Professor Lays to come up to me at the end of the semester (when grades are finalized for submission) with a puzzled look on his face, “What has happened to you? Why the sudden transformation? Did someone kick you in the butt? Did you eat too much brownies (with marijuana in it he meant, lol)?”

Magnificent views of the Roman Forum ruins from the Palatine hill. On the left is my favorite temple, the Temple of Romulus (founder of Rome) which is part of the Santi Cosma e Damiano church circa 4th century.

After class, he would often jokingly confront me by the door. With a mischievous grin displayed on his mouth, he would whisper, “Tell me now, so you smoked marijuana, did you?”

On other times he would be sober with his spoofs and we would talk seriously about my grades and my long list of wayward behaviour that penalized and barred me from entering the dean’s list.

Another short clip - the Roman Forum ruin grounds. Can you see it was beautiful weather?

He was also one of the professors who called me to stop my moonlighting, as during the last year of my course, I was already taking serious projects and was rarely seen at school. He confronted me, “Do you first want to graduate or do you want to work without a diploma?” He reminded me that without my degree and license I cannot sign plans and earn big money, and will always be a slave to the licensed interior designer or architect. Right.

Me in the Roman Forum ruins with the Temple of Antoninius and Faustina circa 141 A.D. at my back.

Hence, walking around the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and the Palatine Hill, whilst inspecting the details of the architectural layouts, the column orders, the friezes in the arches, the frescoes, and so on, brought back memories of professor Lays. Ah, I didn’t sleep in his class after all as what he taught back then still rang a bell in the vaults of my brains.

It was a nice remembrance of professor Lays. I really liked the man. He was odd yet unrivaled in his own league. May he rest in peace.

The Colosseum, Roman Forum, and the Palatine Hill are all located beside each other in one big area. The ruins didn’t disappoint me. The place spoke to me. It evoked back the times of the early civilization when there were no citizens but only barbarians and life was at the hands of a master or the reigning emperor.

Ruins of the Palatine Hill believed to be the place where the twins Remus and Romulus were found breastfed by the she wolf. Both twins built their own city in the river banks of Tiber. In the later part, they had an argument that ended up Romulus killing Remus. This is how Rome came to have its name, from Romulus. On the left is the stadium which was not clear if this was made public or was just a private garden area.

Tickets to the Colosseum costs €9. This includes entrance to the Palatine Hill, while the Roman Forum is free for everyone to roam around. If you are an EU citizen and below 18 and above 65 then you are free to enter. If you are an EU citizen between 18 and 24, you get 50% discount.

One of the best reasons why as a first time Rome visitor must take the combi Colosseum + Palatine ticket is seeing the great views of the Roman Forum from the Palatine Hill. The Palatine sits above the Roman Forum so naturally it has a grand aerial perspective of the whole place. Worth it!

More pictures of Rome can be found here: Rome (South), Italy

The grandiose marble building of Il Vittoriano (Victor Emmanuel monument) in Piazza Venezia was only constructed in the late 1800.

Beside the Roman Forum are Il Vittoriano, Campidoglio, and Piazza Venezia. They were busy renovating Vittoriano and Piazza Venezia so I didn’t get to take good pictures. The Il Vittoriano - Emmanuel Vittoriano monument is also called by the locals as the ‘typewriter’ (hmm Olivetti?) or the ‘wedding cake’ and I can understand why, lol.

There is also a free entrance art exhibition in Il Vittoriano. I managed to get in there as I was looking for the toilet and happened to see the exhibition along the way. The guard did not let me pay €0,50 for the toilet because he thinks I am a bella? Ha-ha, nice!

Piazza del Campidoglio and the buildings in it were designed by the great Michaelangelo, and you can see on the foto the flight of steps leading to the piazza which is called Cordonata. Campidoglio used to be the center of civic government in the Middle Ages.

Well, one can easily lose a day in the ruins and in the surrounding areas of Il Vittoriano and Campidoglio. I almost did when my stomach started growling for attention and it was time to cross over to Piazza Venezia for some fuel and light meal. I took a seat in one of the café restaurants with an outside terrace. I always prefer to sit outside as it is more gezellig for my people watching hobby.

“Pilipina ka?” [Are you a Filipina?]

I turned around and saw this Asian waiter with almond eyes.

“Yeah, I’m Filipina.”

The Numbe One food and drink street vendor in Rome, and my view from the terrace in the corner of Piazza Venezia.

Without much cordiality he quickly rattled in Tagalog informing me that the cashier is a Filipina and another waiter inside is a Filipino too. I told him my Tagalog is not very good so I will have to speak Tagalog-English with him. I always say this as many Filipinos find it disrespectful and arrogant when you respond back in English to them whilst they are speaking to you in Tagalog. Who is to blame when the Philippines have more than 100 dialects? I’m a Cebuana therefore I speak Bisaya, not Tagalog!

The Filipino waiter spoke fluent Italian. He was the affable, comic, and cocky type. I saw him bantering with a couple of Italian guests. It might be an interesting observation to know that the Italian way of communication (basically the culture) quite bear a resemblance to the Filipino style.

Vegetable antipasti for my late lunch in Piazza Venezia.

I ordered the Antipasti – a mix of grilled vegetables which is a classic favorite of mine, and a glass of white wine. After finishing the plate, Mr. Filipino waiter passed by to pick it up and asked me how it was. I said in my (broken) Tagalog, “Gutom na gutom ako.” which in my mind was supposed to mean – I ‘was’ so hungry but now I am filled, but because I was not able to convey the message properly, Mr. Filipino waiter took it with a different meaning.

As a result, he came back with another plate of Antipasti, and another glass of white wine.

“Huh, what’s this?” I asked surprised.

“You said you are still hungry?”

“Ah... eh... no... ”

Typically Filipino, he immediately dismissed my attempts at explanation by waving his hand and squinting his eye, kind of saying the Filipino way of ‘do not worry, this is on me’. I know better when to shut up as this is the renowned Filipino hospitality.

Mr. Filipino waiter and me in Piazza Venezia.

At any rate, I got a free second serving with a glass of wine, ha-ha! But glad enough that the antipasti plate was small as I would not want to leave with a bloated tummy.

Later that afternoon, I went for a walk in the southern bend of Tevere (Tiber River) with the intention of visiting one of the smallest inhabited islands in the world, Isola Tiberina (Tiber Island).

I have been fascinated about the history of this little boat shaped islet as it was said to be an island of isolation and grief in the early days, where only the criminals and the sickly step foot on it. Only due to divine intervention, ah, bless the age of superstitions, that the island eventually became the home of the temple and cult of Aesculapius, the Roman god of medicine.

Isola Tiberina located in the southern bend of the Tiber River.

In the years to come, the island was run by monks and nuns, and became one of the best medical establishments during the medieval period.

It was getting late and I was just picking up my bearings to leave the island, and thought about what’s next on my agenda. I actually have nothing special lined up for the evening except a promise to go back and check Via Corso, which I found out later to be a shopping lane full of rubbish. The clothes displayed showed signs of inferiority in terms of quality, colors, and design, and reminded me of those shoddy clothing stalls in Hongkong, Bangkok, and Manila. Shopping in Rome was a let down. It was quite hard to find something in between as buying a Gucci dress is beyond the goal of this Roma trip.

So I crossed the ancient (said to be the original bridge), Ponte Fabricio connecting the islet to the northeast of mainland Rome and headed off to the bus stop to check which bus I should take to Via Corso. You can get the BIG 1 day ticket for €4, unlimited use of the metro + bus until midnight. There are more days available too.

Chiesa Madonna della Lampada a Tevere (the church of the island) and a pretty view of Tiber Island with the ancient Ponte Cestio (bridge) connecting to Trastevere, in the south of Rome.

“Pilipina ka ba?” [Are you a Filipina?]

The woman actually asked this twice as I was so caught up with reading the many choices of bus routes.


And like I am a sort of specimen that needed to be thoroughly inspected, she rolled her eyes, up and down, from my forehead down to my boots, and further asked rather indifferently, “Part-timer ka ba?” [Are you a part-timer?]

A quizzical look formed my face and I could only manage, “What?”

“Part-timer ka ba. Saan ka nagtatrabaho?” [Are you a part-timer? Where do you work?]

When she said this she was like saying, WHO ARE YOU and I was really taken aback. What is this woman is talking about? What does she want? You know, I value my privacy and I am not into warming up with strangers that I just met on the road even if they belong to the same race, nationality or whatever. I can of course be friendly but asking direct questions to strangers you just met on the street, let alone know their names? So there, I was standing in front of her speechless.

“Orario ba, saan ka nagpa part-time.” [I mean hourly job, where do you work part-time], she repeated, and I think she got a bit impatient that I did not understand her.

In my hesitant Tagalog I replied, “Hindi ako taga rito. Turista ako.” [I am not from here. I’m a tourist.”]

“Ah, ang sarap naman ng buhay mo!” [Ah, how nice your life is!] And without saying goodbye, she turned her back and exited grandiosely into the waiting bus that just arrived (how timely!) with her teenage son in tow, who also looked a bit confused.

The bus went and with a tight knot on my forehead I was left asking to myself, what the heck was that all about?

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