|With the exception of the absolutely splendid Trevi Fountain, most of my two days in Rome has been about exploring some of the less touristed, 'second-tier' sites. But, of course, being Rome, these lesser known churches and palazzos would be worthy of superstar status in any other city!
On my late night arrival in Rome on Monday, I was struck by the warm golden tones of many of the buildings in the old city. Next morning, blue skies and sunshine welcomed me. The city and grand buildings seemed spruced up, compared to my thirty year old memories. Certainly, the Trevi fountain has benefited enormously from a 2.2 million euro restoration in 2015 - the photos probably do not do justice to its shimmering whiteness which just took my breath away. I ran into some British tourists who had come in on the shuttle bus with me the previous night and the mother said that her adult daughter had burst into tears when they turned the corner and caught their first glimpse of the fountain. My electronic guide book describes it as 'gushingly baroque' and I'm a sucker for baroque, roccoco and over-the-top architecture. So, a fabulous start to my Italian holiday. (I did toss in a coin 30 years ago, so it works and I have returned).
The next photo is of a fabulous chocolate and gelati shop called Venchi. It had a huge wall of running, melted chocolate, similar to the water wall at the National Gallery in Melbourne. While the wall was off-limits to fingers, I indulged and bought three handmade, coffee-filled dark chocolates that I savoured during the day. Such discipline! It might have had something to do with the fact that I had already had a ricotta-filled croissant for breakfast at a cafe called La Cannoleria Siciliana (the Sicilian cannoli shop), near my hotel. I have discovered that many of the Italian pastries are really too rich for breakfast. So I have stocked up already with muesli bars, apples, salada crackers and cheese as the typical Italian breakfast of un cornetto (a croissant) and a cappucino is not filling enough for me.
After stumbling upon the Pantheon and other ruins, I decided to wander into some nearby churches. My favourite church on the first day was the baroque Sant' Andrea della Valle, described as having the second tallest dome after St Peter's (but with only a handful of visitors and no security screening). Then I visited the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj - again, hardly any visitors but an astonishing wealth of art and rococco architecture. I walked around using an English audio guide, narrated by the charming voice of one of the sons of this ancient family. My favourite story was learning the origins of the word, nepotism. One of the Doria Pamphilj family was Pope Innocent X (in about the mid 1600s) who appointed his nephew (the Italian word is nipote) to the role of Cardinal Nephew, hence introducing the term nepotism for promoting family members! The nephew decided he didn't like the celibate life (although that apparently didn't stop Pope Innocent X who was reputed to have had a mistress), so the nephew left the role of Cardinal. He was initially banished by his uncle, but on his subsequent rehabilitation, he returned to Rome where he used his family's immense wealth to build the beautiful Palazzo, the walls of which are totally covered with art.
My second day, I struggled with jetlag and also had to check out the logistics for my early morning departure on Thursday from Rome to Taranto. After a slow start, I wandered around the Vatican precinct in the afternoon. While online tickets allow you to avoid the queues, I was just not in the mood for the crowds. So, again to the back streets and smaller churches. This time, I found another exquisite church called San Spirito in Sassia. As I entered, I realised there was a service in progress, so I sat down quietly. I soon realised it was the Stations of the Cross, led by a nun with a beautiful singing and speaking voice. I stayed for the whole service, really enjoying the beauty and peace of this church. At the end, it seemed fitting to light a candle for a safe trip.
Tomorrow, to Taranto! (I am cheating and writing this now from Taranto, so I can create map entries for each town I visit)