The Forum

This morning we went shopping and I ran across a great little shop where they hand-make leather purses & shoes, all of them beautiful and interesting, with a choice of handles, colors, etc.  It’s called Sirni, and it’s at 33 Via Della Stelletta.  I bought a gray purse with 3 different straps and use it constantly (and went back in October for 2 pairs of ballet flats!)  Purchased a colorful maxie dress at Loveshine, Via del Corso, 265 which seems to specialize in bright, somewhat unusual, colorful dresses and accessories.  Jack found some great jeans at Cosimo Colonna, Via Uffici del Vicario, 53 (ask for Bruno).

Then, the big event (for me, anyway), a tour of the Palatine Hill, Forum and Colosseum.  I had read about the villas on Palatine Hill in the series by Colleen McCullough and was anxious to actually be there, where the wealthy Romans had lived.  We took the ContextRome tour and our docent was an expert in archeology.  Honestly, it was a little disappointing.  There really isn’t much left on the Palatine Hill to see, and what there is generally is from the time after Caesar Augustus.  There are ruins of some of the villas, mostly from the early ADs.  From one side you can look down over the Circus Maximum, where they used to have stands for thousands of spectators to watch the chariot races — its on the far right — oval shaped — in the photo below:

Here is a typical villa you’ll see if you visit …

And here is a view into what I believe was an inner courtyard of one of the emporer’s homes …

it really didn’t “come alive” for me as I had thought that it would.  There are remains from an aquaduct, and fountains from ancient times that still work, where you can refill your water bottle (a necessity on June/July — it was hot!)

to drink where they drink 2000 years ago, using the same water system, is pretty amazing.  After about 1-1/2 hours on “the Hill,” including a visit to the museum which houses some of the artifacts found there, it was time to descend into the heart of ancient Rome, where political, commerce and religion came together, the Forum.  We made our way down the hill, and it thunderstorms were in the distance and threatening to create a downpour at any minute. In some ways the dark sky made it more dramatic (if that was possible).  Really, the forum would take days to really explore, and you could devote years to studying what remains.  They have dug down to the depths of Julius Caesar’s time (they could have chosen many different ground levels), and you pass by the arches of later emperors, the home of the Vestal Virgins, the site where Julius Caesar had lived, and the area that housed his funeral pyre.  And, of course, the Senate House.  But we didn’t get to go inside the Senate house — not enough time (I went back in october and will recount that visit later).  In fact, there wasn’t time enough for me to see have the things I wanted to, and what I really missed was just having the luxury of being able to stand and absorb the feeling, the history, the immensity of it all.  But, the rest of my group, less enthralled with Caesar, were pushing on to the Colosseum.  As we began to leave the area of Caesar’s funeral pyre (where people still leave flowers in his honor), the sky got extremely dark and the birds started cawing, and it sent chills down my back.  I felt like Caesar was speaking to us, acknowledging us, and acknowledging that even today he is remembered.  At least by me!  Seriously, I am so enthralled by what his abilities, at least as recounted in the books I’ve read (I’m sure some history professor could dismiss most of the things I believe about him, since my reading has been superficial, but I don’t have the luxury of sufficient time to conduct detailed research… maybe one day!)  From what I can tell, he was politically savvy, incredibly brave, very self-confident (but for good reason), smart, eloquent, charming, witty, a great soldier, a wonderful writer and editor, efficient, effective, perceptive, attractive … and someone who truly loved Rome.  I have to admire his adopted “son,” his nephew Augustus, as well.  For someone so young, with minimal training and preparation for the post, to outwit Cicero & the other senators, Mark Antony and the other soldiers (of course, with Marcus Agrippa by his side) and manage to take Rome from where it was with Caesar’s assassination to what it became during his reign was nothing short of amazing.  While physically weak he was certainly astute, savvy, courageous & nimble.

In any event, here are some of my Forum pics —

Then, passing cleopatra along the way (apparently, forced to rely on the kindness of strangers to keep her in gold)

we made our way to the colosseum — largest amphitheater in the Roman Empire and home to too many gladiator battles to count.  Killing as entertainment seems so foreign to us (hopefully and thankfully), but I’m sure it would be much different to be in their shoes, living in those times, than it is to try to imagine it today, from our perspective.  The colosseum was interesting, of course, since I had heard about it forever and it’s such a symbol for Rome.  I actually enjoyed my visit to the smaller colosseum in Capua in October, however.  In Capua it was just my husband and I, and one other couple, the entire hour we spent there, and we were able to wander around the entire amphitheater, including going underneath where the animals and men waited for the battle to being, and then walking up as they must have, onto the colosseum floor, imagining what it must have been like for your life to have been at stake, and to have that be nothing more than entertaining to the thousands watching you die.  At the Roman colosseum you’re limited to the outer rim, but it’s still fascinating to think of how advanced the innovations of the amphitheater were — where 50,000 could be seated in an organized manner, quickly, due to the design of the structure.

There weren’t any of the fake gladiators around — the rain had run them off, and not too many people were there, even in late June, so we were able to get a good sense of what it would have been like to be sitting in those seats, watching the great sea battles held early in the Colosseum’s history, where the entire floor was floated and real boats battled for show, as well as the animal fights and, of course, the gladiators.  After 4 hours, our tour was done, and we set off in a taxi to I Butteri, which supposedly has pizza but definitely has steaks, and that I highly recommend.  It’s located at Piazza Regina Margherita, 15, and got crowded pretty quickly so reservations are recommended (06-85.48.130).  We didn’t have any but we generally ate dinner WAY before any Italian even thought about dinner, so didn’t have any problem getting in.  All of us ordered different cuts of meat and all were amazing.  And a nice change of pace from pasta and seafood.  Then a walk around the piazzas and back home to rest and prepare for the Vatican early the next day.  More to come!


Galleria Borghese

Breakfast from a nearby bakery eaten on our terrace got our 1st full day in Rome off to a delicious start, then it was in the taxi for a quick trip to the Galleria Borghese.  I choose Sunday to visit the Borghese because many of the other sites are closed, and I reserved our tickets well in advance.  (Note, the ticket reservation process was somewhat complicated, to me at least, but well worth it & probably essential.)  After numerous unsuccessful attempts to reach the reservations line via phone, I reserved the tickets through the Borghese website, which meant I had to forgo the Roma Pass discount (at least I couldn’t figure out how to accomplish that online).  Even with the tickets pre-ordered you should  arrive  30 minutes early to pick up your tickets, and at that time you can also purchase a tour with an English (or other language) guide.  We waited in the beautiful (and enormous) garden area for the tour to start.  We purchased the guided tour, which was helpful to give us a good understanding of what we were seeing, and it turned out that the other two who had purchased a place in our tour hadn’t realized they had to separately purchase tickets to the museum itself, so they were not able to go, leaving us with a private family tour for a relatively inexpensive price.

I don’t have any photos to share, but there are plenty you can find online.  I have never been a fan of Baroque but I have to tell you, a few hours in the Borghese and I changed my mind.  At least, I fell in love with Bernini’s sculptures and Caravaggio’s paintings.  And the story of Bernini’s patron, the owner of the Borghese at that time, was intriguing to say the least.  The Borghese owner and Bernini patron, Scipione, was passionate about art and felt free to make up his own rules as to which, if any, laws applied to him as he went along.  According to our guide, if there was a piece of art he desired, he took it, by whatever means necessary, legal or not.   At least, that’s the story we were told.  His ability to do as he pleased came in part from his money and in part from his connection to his uncle, Pope Paul V.  It must have been fascinating to be a fly on the wall of his home and watch first hand as he went about his business, gathering and celebrating art, unveiling Bernini’s masterpieces, acting like the king of the world.  I would hesitate to be his friend — I certainly wouldn’t want to do anything to upset or make an enemy of him; on the other hand, however, to befriend him and  have access to his villa, grounds, art, and relationships with artists like  Bernini and Caravaggio, both of whom had to be intense, passionate, fascinating people, may have made it work the risk.

Bernini’s sculptures, of Apollo & Daphne, David, and Pluto & Proserpina, are nothing short of amazing.  He somehow made the static block of marble seem to come alive and actually tell the story of Apollo & Daphne.  As you walk around the statute each movement speaks of another part of Apollo’s heartbreaking story of longing, but not attaining, Daphne, and you see Apollo reaching for Daphne as she begins to turn into a laurel tree, the leaves growing and covering her body as viewed from one side.  Bernini’s David is just as amazing.  There stands David,  preparing to launch his stone from his sling and kill Goliath — you can feel his movement, as Bernini draws you into the scene.  Once you drag yourself away from those two statutes you’re treated to the story of Pluto and Proserpina — created so realistically that  you can virtually feel Pluto’s fingers digging into Proserpina’s flesh, and her anguish as she tries to escape his grip.  I do not know how anyone can make a piece of marble with such vitality and sense of life, and to think he sculpted most if not all of those  pieces when he was still in his 20s!

The Caravaggio paintings were amazing as well, and you can get a good look at them and the other artwork because the museum strictly limits the number of people touring at any one time.  It’s a wonderful way to spend 1/2 a day especially a Sunday.  A friend who went a few years ago said that his afternoon at the Galleria Borghese was his favorite time in Rome.  My love of history meant it wasn’t my favorite, but it definitely was a not-to-be-missed event.

After our tour of the museum we ventured through the park to have lunch, and were tempted by the bike-drawn carriages but passed them up to spend an hour at another nearby museum at the other end of the park, the Galleria d’Arte Moderna.  We were a little tired of walking by the time we arrived at the restaurant, but it wasn’t really that far.  After a week with the Louvre, the Musee d’Orsay, and the Borghese the modern art museum was not as impressive as it might otherwise have been, but my 17-year-old son completely enjoyed it and spent at least an hour wandering the first floor while the rest of us choose a comfy bench in front of a large painting and decided resting our feet while focusing on one masterpiece was the best way to go!

Next it was back to our apartment for an Orientation Chat with a ContextRome representative.  We’d used ContextParis for the museum tours there, and found them to be very professional and informative, and the orientation was no exception.  Our guide was knowledgable, helpful and friendly, and gave us a good overview of the neighborhood as well as the broader region.  Nonetheless, you can probably learn most of it on your own if you do your research beforehand, and save your money to spend on the museum/site tours instead.  (Note that my husband might differ, as he enjoyed her walking with us to point out the best coffee shop, and a shop where he could purchase glasses, and other speciality stores he might not have found through the guidebooks.)

That evening we ate at La Sagrestia, on Via del Seminario 89, 06 6797581.  Our pizza was excellent (especially the white/4 cheese one) as were the artichokes.  This is a small restaurant near the Pantheon.  It’s cozy, not too touristy, fairly inexpensive, and recommended for kids or couples. Here we are, giving it the official “thumb’s up.”

After dinner, a walk through the streets and then back to the apartment. Tomorrow, a day I’ve been long awaiting — my first visit to the Forum, and a close encounter with Caesar!

Our Week in Rome

After 7 idyllic evenings along the Seine on the Ile St Louis in a 400-year old apartment and a quite chaotic checkin on EasyJet, due in part to  a bomb threat in the checkin area & in part to lots of summer travelers (fyi, pay extra for the upgrade for checkin, it’s well worth it!), we arrived and checked into our 400-year-old Roman apartment at the Piazza Mattei.  (I had searched endlessly for apartments, thinking I’d found the perfect one and then finding a review of it, or its landlord, on TripAdvisor or SlowTrav. or some other site that informed me that the photos were of some other apartment, the landlord was a nightmare, the place was over an all-night nightclub, or some other horror story.  We ended up finding Silvia, a San Francisco-based travel agent who is quite talkative but who knows everything about italy and is a sweetheart who goes out of her way to please her clients.  She found us the Balconi apartment for significantly less than AmexEx had offered it to us, and personally knew the landlord and had seen the apartment.)  Silvia would call someone she knew in Rome and have them check out any apartment we were interested in that she hadn’t already seen before she’d recommend it to us, so I had the comfort of knowing that we weren’t walking into the unknown.  The apartment she found for us was perfect, and perfectly situated.  The kids loved having their own room (complete with gorgeous view of the city) & the owner himself, whose family had owned the building since it was built hundreds of years ago, gave us a personal tour and then walked us through the neighborhood (where we ran into his brother and sister-in-law, who introduced themselves to us as well), pointing out bookstores, grocery stores, coffee shops, etc. in the neighborhood.  We ate that night at an Italian restaurant across from the Largo di orre Argentina, just off Corso Vittorio Emanuele II.  As soon as I opened the menu I knew I was in heaven — more than 4 full pages of Italian food, and even more filled with red wine.  My husband wasn’t too happy that the place was filled with tourists but our waitress was funny and friendly and welcoming, we had good Italian food, red wine, and a front-row seat on our outdoor table from which to watch the Italians, and tourists, walking, kissing, talking, and enjoying life.  After dinner we wandered down Via dei Cestari and, passing a church, decided to check it out inside.  It was beautiful, of course, and there was an American high school choir singing Italian songs as part of a contest.  It’s so cool to be wondering down a random street after dinner and stop for a peak into a hundreds-of-years-old church to hear beautiful music surrounded by masterpieces from famous artists and sculptures and that just be the norm.  It could have been almost any street corner in the city.  This one, however, just happened to be next to an ancient Egyptian obelisk ….

and less than a block from the Pantheon.  There it was, looming right in front of us.

It was closed for the evening, but just to stand there and realize you were in front of it,  and in a beautiful piazza filled with people and, best of all, any flavor of gelatto you could consume, was completely amazing to a little East Texas girl from Tyler.  We may be the Rose Capital of the World, but that just doesn’t compare to the seat of ancient civilization… at least to this tylerrite.  As long as I can remember I’ve dreamed of being in Europe.  In my imagination I was part of a large, and wealthy, family and we had homes scattered all over the world, and each of us kids was able to choose 2 rooms, plus our bedroom, to have as our own.  So in some of our (imaginary) houses I had a light-filled art studio, in others a dark-paneled library literally covered on all walls with filled bookcases, and a windowseat with a plush, cranberry-colored seat cushion next to a bay window, with a curtain (also cranberry colored) that I could draw closed to create my own private world, with a window to the outside but a good book to take me anywhere I wanted to go.  That night in Rome, I was just where I wanted to be, and I didn’t need a book, or an imaginary house, to get me there!

Eventually we had to return to our apartment, and unpack our Rick Steves luggage and prepare for the next day.  (Rick had shamed me into getting by with only one carry-on — if he could do it, so could I! I still ended up with more than I needed, and highly recommend heavy editing on your packing, if for nothing else then to leave room for lots of stuff to take back home!)  My husband was sick of hearing about Mr. Steves by this point, although we found it amusing to point out fellow travelers that we just knew were his fans, from their clothes, luggage, and “look.”  There seems to be a “Rick Steves” connection all through Europe — you see folks reading his books and carrying his luggage and dressing per his advice everywhere you go.  Good for him — I just wish I’d thought of it first!

Hello world!

Welcome to my first blog.  A little scary but I will bravely go where so many have gone before.  I’d love to be a writer, but I lack imagination, creativity and time.  Maybe taking baby steps in the bloggers world will help me get in the habit, who knows.  I’ll start my blog story in ancient Rome … the Rome of Sulla, & Gaius Marius,  Cicero, Mark Antony, Pompey the Great and, my personal favorite, Julius Caesar.

My fascination with ancient Rome began only recently.  Earlier this year I started planning for a trip to Europe with my husband and two teenage children — 14 and 17.  We decided to spend our two weeks in only two cities — Paris and Rome.  I’d always loved Paris, even though I’d only been once, and for only a few days, but I’d never been to Rome.  In anticipation, and wanting to learn something about it, I picked up Colleen MuCullough’s book, Caesar, and my love affair began.  I read each of her books in the series, and they really made the Roman’s come alive for me.  I was so intrigued, in fact, that I’ve been reading all I can get my hands on about the folks from Roma.  I have a special affection for Cicero, since I’m also an attorney, and I admire him for being able to make a name for himself despite being a “new man” from the countryside.  He does seem to have been a little wimpy and had  a great appreciation of his own abilities, sometimes more than was deserved, but he was witty and did care about this country.  Even Caesar, my “main man,” seemed to have a soft spot for Cicero despite Cicero’s speaking out against him and siding with Pompey at the end.  In any event, learning about them and feeling like I “knew” made my trip to Rome that much more interesting, and in the end I have to say that — although this feels disloyal to Paris which I also loved — I feel more deeply in love with Rome, and with Italy, than any other place in  Europe.  We stayed in an apartment built by my landlord’s family in the 1400s, and it was the center of the old city, within walking distance of almost everything.  It was a little hike up 5 flights of stairs to reach the apartment but there was a tiny elevator to use if we needed it, and once you got to our apartment we had the advantage of having a rooftop terrace overlooking the City.  Our little kitchen was more than sufficient for the minimal cooking we did — dinner one night with ingredients from the nearby grocery store, lots of wine, of course, and breakfast every day.  There was a washer and dryer in the kitchen as well, and two bedrooms, two baths and a nice living room.  All the comforts of home, but in Rome.  We were only steps from the Ghetto, with its interesting stores and history, and also only a few minutes’ walk from Largo Argentino which, I learned after the first day, is where Caesar was killed.  It was one of the areas with the closest ties to Caesar — much of what you can see in Rome is from later in the empire, the time of Augustus, or Trajan, or Hadrian, or others.  As a history buff in my previous trip to Europe I’d been fascinated by medieval castles… now, when I saw a medieval building on the Palentine Hill, I just got pissed off that it was covering up something from an earlier era — I wanted to stick with 100 BC-1 BC, not way into the middle ages!  It’s ironic, how in the US we travel to civil war battlegrounds and it seems like so long ago … and Revolutionary sites in Boston, etc. seem even more ancient.  And that’s only the 1700s, hardly a blink of an eye in the past.  I love thinking about how as much as we think things have changed, we’re still the same inside.  Love, hate, wars, peace, jealousy, hope, desire, ego, revenge — 2000 years ago and probably 20,000 years ago, still the same, just in different clothing.  Of course they were writing on wax tablets and not a blog, but still the same basic idea.

So this blogging thing may not be so interesting to you, but I think I’m going to enjoy “talking” about my trip this summer, and then telling you about my return trip to Rome and the Amalfi coast this October, with visits to Pompeii, Herculaneum, Naples, Capri, Ravello and the other wonderful towns in Campania, so if you love Italy, too, then come along for the ride!


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