Archive for November, 2004

Rome – a City to Return to

Sunday, November 28th, 2004

Neptune Fountain

Neptune Fountain

Rome is a magnificent city steeped in history and tradition. Visiting the Forum and the Colosseum will transport you back to the time of Julius Caesar. The Basilica of San Pietro will totally overwhelm you with its size and beauty, while the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican Museum will open your eyes to the sheer magnificence of Michelangelo. But the true joy of Rome is to return again and again. This way you can visit the lesser known churches, enjoy a café in a piazza, and meander through the neighborhoods. Around each corner is another hidden gem: a beautiful sculpture, a quaint church, or a shop with an artisan selling his wares. Here are a few of the things that I enjoyed on my last trip.

If you have been to Rome then you must have walked through the Piazza Navona. A large piazza with three dramatic fountains, two of which were designed by Bernini. The largest and most famous of the fountains is Fontana di Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the four rivers), and the Neptune Fountain is the other Bernini. Although these fountains are beautiful pieces of art, they are also places where people congregate. There are the tourists snapping pictures, but also locals chatting with each other to catch up on the day’s events. It can be fun to sit in the piazza at one of the many cafes and watch the street life. While you are sitting, look up at the buildings that surround the piazza and admire the architecture, it’s unbelievable. A couple blocks from the piazza is an interesting church, Santa Maria della Pace. I enjoyed it because it has a very dramatic baroque façade with a semicircular portico that dominates this small piazza. The church has a beautiful cloister, which is a quiet getaway in this city overrun with Vespas.

Zucchini Flowers

Zucchini Flowers

Campo dei Fiori is another
piazza alive with energy. Every morning there is a market setup with flowers, fruits & vegetables, meats, and fish. The zucchini flowers, artichokes, and numerous mushrooms will make you wish you lived in Rome. But the people make the market even more special. An old man is hunched over his stool meticulously cleaning artichokes with his knife. Two old ladies are destemming baby spinach leaves, and there is a blazing fire a couple feet from their chairs to warm them during the morning chill. Another lady is strolling the Campo with strands of fresh garlic hung around her neck. Actually she looks a bit pazzo (crazy). Each afternoon the stands in the market are removed, and the cobblestone streets are cleaned. The Campo then transforms into a nighttime hangout. I enjoyed the Vineria Reggio, a wine bar with a great selection of 20 wines by the glass. It is filled with locals, very crowded and extremely smoky, but is fun, low-key, and a great place to hangout.

Just outside the Campo dei Fiori is the church Sant’ Andrea della Valle, which has the second highest cupola in Rome. On a sunny day, light steams in through the cupola highlighting the gilded interior and accentuating the beauty of the statues and the frescos.

Another church that was truly impressive was San Giovanni in Laterno. The land was taken by Emperor Constantine to build Rome’s first Christian basilica. Before the popes moved to Avignon in 1309, the adjoining Lateran Palace was the official papal residence, and until 1870 all popes were crowned in this church. The church is massive with two aisles to each side of the nave. Although destroyed and rebuilt many times, it is magnificent. Only the Pope can celebrate mass from the main altar, which is a splendid Gothic canopy glittering in gold and decorated with frescos. The statues, artwork, Cosmatesque floor, and cloister will keep you entertained for hours.

On the east side of the Piazza di San Giovanna is Scala Santa (holy staircase) which is part of the old Lateran Palace. These 28 steps were said to be those that Christ ascended in Pontius Pilate’s house during his trial, and were brought here from Jerusalem. No foot may touch these holy steps, so worshipers ascend the steps on their knees. The day I visited the church there were over 30 people climbing these steps. This is very touching, and certainly worth a visit.

It is interesting that we also visited another church, Santa Maria in Aracoeli, where people would climb the steps on their knees. In 1348 a huge flight of steps were built to thank the Virgin Mary for saving Rome from the plague. Up until the 19th century, some Romans would ascend all 124 steps on their knees reciting Ave Maria. There was no one on their knees during my visit, but it is a pretty church, and there are beautiful vistas of the city from the top of the church stairs.

Speaking of views of the city, there is none better than from the top of the dome of St. Peters, which is 435 feet high, and the highest point in Rome. It is quite a few steps to the top, but it is worth it. Besides, you will probably need to work off some of yesterday’s pasta. From the top you have beautiful views of the Vatican Gardens, and an overall panorama of the entire city.

Fontana delle Tartarughe

Fontana delle Tartarughe

Although aerial views give a fabulous perspective of the city, you must walk the streets to truly see Rome. I was walking through the Jewish Ghetto neighborhood on our way to lunch (the ghetto is a must area for anyone that likes fried artichokes) when we came upon a small piazza with a great fountain Fontana delle Tartarughe (fountain of the tortoises). This charming fountain was built in three stages. Giacomo della Porta designed the original fountain in the 1580’s. Then Taddeo Landini added four bronze slender youths, which added grace and charm. About a century later an unknown artist added the tortoises.

Another neighborhood that is great to visit is Trastevere. Santa Maria in Trastevere is the main church, and it’s lovely. But put the map away, and just wander the streets. The small piazzas are charming, the pocket-sized stores are fabulous; and you can just feel the warmth of a neighborhood.

Via Giulia

Via Giulia

Across the Ponte Sisto (bridge) from Trastevere is one of my favorite streets – Via Giulia. As opposed to the typically curvy street of Rome, Via Giulia is as straight as an arrow. It is lined with beautiful buildings, many of which have antique stores on the first level. The highlight is the Farnese archway which spans Via Giulia, and was built to a design by Michelangelo. The ivy dripping from the archway is stunning.

At the north end of Via Giulia you begin to enter the main shopping district which runs toward the Spanish Steps. Although Via Condotti is the most famous shopping street with many famous designers, I find some of the smaller streets like Via Governo Vecchio and Via Margutta to be more interesting.

The Spanish Steps are fun and alive with energy. It seems like a melting pot of twenty nations, and everyone has a shopping bag. North of the Spanish Steps is the Borghese Gardens, a beautiful park that I love to visit. You can walk down tree lined paths for miles. You will see horseback riding, a zoo, museums, and a lake with children sailing their toy boats. The highlight of the park, however, is the Villa Borghese, which is my favorite museum. The Villa Borghese designed in 1605 has two floors, the sculpture collection occupies the ground floor, while the picture gallery is on the upper floor. Two of Bernini’s finest sculptures are in this collection: Apollo and Daphne & Pluto and Persephone…pure brilliance.

Note that all the artwork in Rome isn’t the sheer perfect of a Bernini statue, some can be quirky and fun. In Santa Maria in Cosmedin, set into the wall of the portico is the Bocca della Verita (mouth of truth). This is a drain cover dating back to the 4th century, and it looks like an ugly face with a large mouth. Legend has it that if you place your hand into the mouth, the jaws will snap shut on those that tell lies. Nearby you must walk up to Circus Maximus which dates back to the 4th century BC, where up to 250,000 watched chariot races. What is interesting to see is that it still has the sloped sides to the arena where the spectators sat around the oval track, but it is now a park. Runners circle the dirt oval track and dogs run on the grass . In the early years, Circus Maximus was the arena, and the Palatine Hill was the elite living area. According to legend, Romulus and Remus were raised here by a wolf in a cave.

Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain

Traces of Iron Age huts dating back to the 8th century BC have been found here. The area is dominated by the ruins of the Domus Flavia and the Domus Augustana, two parts of a huge palace built at the end of the first century. The condition of these ruins is amazing. On the far side of the Palatine Hill, separated from the ruins by some beautiful gardens, is a vantage point with perhaps the best views of the Forum and the Colosseum.

I can’t wait to return to Rome. Each visit becomes more interesting and meaningful. I am not superstitious, but I wanted to ensure my return to Rome. So, before I left, I visited the Trevi Fountain and tossed in my coin.

Favorite Spots to Run or Walk

Saturday, November 27th, 2004

A couple weeks back I enjoyed watching the NYC marathon, and I started to reminisce about the joys of running. Often when I travel, I find running to be a great way to enjoy the sights. If you are not able to run, these are also great places to walk. Here are a few of my favorite spots:

  • In Florida, A1A in Palm Beach hugs the Atlantic Ocean, and the road is lined with magnificent mansions. An added bonus is that in spots it is a separate path that also runs along the Intracoastal Waterway.
  • In Rome, The Borghese Gardens is a beautiful park with tree-lined paths. The winding path passes a zoo, a lake, and numerous statues.
  • The path along the Ocean in Santa Monica and Venice is spectacular. The path bisects a large sand beach with the ocean to the west; and it alive with runners, bikers, and rollerbladers.
  • Boston has fabulous running paths along the Charles River that stretch for miles and miles. But don’t forget to bring your thermal underwear for the wintertime.
  • Although I don’t have the urge to enter many races these days, there is one event I must do…the Medoc Marathon. Running through the vineyards in Bordeaux, eating oysters and sipping a Chateau Pichon Longueville sounds like a real hoot.

Worth Seeking Out…

Friday, November 26th, 2004
  • Roasting a leg of lamb or a turkey? Then I would recommend the All Clad Roasting Pan in stainless steel. Available at Broadway Panhandler in N.Y.C. or at www.chefscatalog.com
  • The Museum of Modern Art in N.Y.C has just reopened after a 2 1/2 year renovation. Yoshio Taniguchi was the architect that took on this project to update and expand this museum. Although the design may be controversial, it will certainly provide an exciting environment for many new art collections.
  • The William Jefferson Clinton Library recently opened in Little Rock, Ark. It is the largest of all the presidential libraries, with an expansive memoir of our 42nd president.
  • Farmers markets are still overflowing with great root vegetables. There is nothing better than a pan of roasted potatoes, beets, celeriac, turnips and shallots.

Wine of the Month: Chateau Sociando Mallet ’98 ($35) Haut-Medoc

Thursday, November 25th, 2004

Over the last several months I have been tasting red Bordeaux from the 1998 vintage to find a special wine for the holidays. Last year I found some gems from 1996, but they are becoming harder to find, and more expensive. My favorite was Sociando Mallet, a delicious well rounded wine. It has a deep red color with luscious fruit and hints of cedar and coffee. This wine is a perfect balance of fruit, acidity, and structure. Although there are some tannins allowing the wine to age nicely for 5-10 years, it opens up very nicely after a half hour of decanting. Perfect for that special holiday meal.