Saturday, November 30, 2013

Viaggi a Roma- The Last Day

Sant'Agnese in Agone
Sunday, a day of rest in the Western world.  After going non-stop for two weeks we needed a change of pace from the jam-packed days we had planned for ourselves.  We were also looking forward to getting back home, seeing our kids, and just relaxing.  A co-worker who travels to (and all over) Europe several times a year as part of his duties managing  NATO Doctrine (best job EVER!), made me promise to take a day to just sit in a piazza with my wife, share a bottle of wine, and just watch the world go by.  Other than attending mass, that was about all I had on our plate for this last day of our Viaggi a Roma- our Travel to Rome.

Rome's famous (and beautiful) Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona's Cafe Bernini, taking its name from he who had become my favorite artist, was the spot I chose to sit and people-watch while enjoying a wonderful lunch.  I enjoy wine, and like both red and white variants, but I can't say I'm a connoisseur, nor do I have a very discerning palate.  Before I really began to enjoy wine, I used to subscribe to the Dave Barry view of drinkers:

I have never gotten into wine. I'm a beer man. What I like about beer is, you basically just drink it, then you order another one. You don't sniff at it, or hold it up to the light and slosh it around, and above all you don't drone on and on about it, the way people do with wine. Your beer drinker tends to be a straightforward, decent, friendly, down-to-earth person who enjoys talking about the importance of relief pitching, whereas your serious wine fancier tends to be an insufferable snot.

Read more here:

I know I haven't fallen into the category of insufferable snottiness because when we dine out in the US, I tend to get a bit overwhelmed by the expansive (and expensive) wine menus some places have.  I'm usually happy with the bottles on the lower end of the cost-spectrum, and am sometimes unable to tell how a more expensive bottle is better than a cheaper one.  The multitude of red varieties- Pinot Noir, Malbec, Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, Beaujolais, etc., aren't easy to find in Rome, or at least aren't offered in the places we dined in.  So one of the most endearing aspects of dining in Rome is that they have just two varieties- Red and White.  You can either ask for one or the other,  or just tell the waiter to bring you what they recommend.  I guarantee it will be delicious, will go well with whatever you ordered, and you'll enjoy the simplicity of it.

This cozy spot in the northwest corner of the sun-drenched piazza had a wonderful view of the comings and goings of both tourists and locals alike.  The wide-eyed visitors meandered through the spectacular fountains and sales displays of regional art, semi-aggressively vying for the best photographs in front of the amazing architecture and sculptures, while the Romans pushing through the square tried to ignore the chaos as they made their way to wherever they were headed on that lazy Sunday afternoon. 

Piazza Navona from the NE  (not my photo of course)

As we sat there slowly sipping yet another thoroughly delicious wine, I was amused by a street musician playing an accordion.  He was being completely ignored by both Romans and tourists alike, most likely due to his choice of music at the time, with Guantanamera not going over so well.  As soon as he switched to music with a more Italian flavor, such as 'O Sole Mio and the Godfather theme, his business picked up and his cigar box began to fill up.

A few other pictures from the piazza- 

 Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers)
 Fontana del Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune)

 Fontana del Moro (Moor Fountain)

The Carabinieri getting zeppole (think cops and donuts- Italian style)

After leaving Piazza Navona, we went in search of some gelato. What is gelato you might ask?  Ice cream sent from heaven.  That stuff is much better than the swill they serve here in the U.S.  I'm kidding of course, but it is so delicious- creamier, more dense due to the way it is whipped, and less fattening.  We were told to visit the Gelateria Frigidarium just west of the piazza for the best gelato in all of Rome.  In fact, it's practically endorsed by the students at the Pontifical North American College in Rome (and supposedly delivered daily by St. Peter himself!)

My friend David Exner (former Captain, USMC)
during a break from his studies to become a Catholic Priest
We had a leisurely stroll on the streets around the gelateria as we enjoyed the treat, making our way towards a few sites just east of the plaza.  First we entered Piazza della Rotonda.  This is the plaza just in front of Rome's famous Pantheon, also known as the Church of Santa Maria Rotonda.  At the center of the plaza is the Fontana del Pantheon which is topped by an Egyptian obelisk, one of several in Rome.


The well-preserved Pantheon has been in continuous use as a church or temple since it was built  in 125 AD
The view of the interior of the Pantheon from just inside its massive doors
The Pantheon's Oculus- the only source of light inside. The dome is still the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome.
There is no top or cover to the oculus during inclement weather.  The floor of the Pantheon however, hides a drainage system for the the rain that falls through the oculus.  As the sun shines through the hole, it creates a sort of reverse sundial as the rays of the sun shine around the room as the earth rotates throughout the day.

Here are two panoramic photos of the interior.  Be sure to click on them for the full effect.  The right side gets cut off if I try and post the original sized picture.

Just east of the Pantheon was my favorite church in all of Rome- Sant'Ignazio (St. Ignatius)- mainly due to the phenomenal fresco paintings on the ceiling- paintings that make it appear that heaven is reaching down to earth, and is thus a portal to the heavens. 


One can hardly tell where the building ends and the heavens begin
A better description of the perspective I mentioned earlier comes from Wiki:  "Andrea Pozzo, a Jesuit lay brother, painted the grandiose fresco that stretches across the nave ceiling (after 1685). It celebrates the work of Saint Ignatius and the Society of Jesus in the world presenting the saint welcomed into paradise by Christ and the Virgin Mary and surrounded by allegorical representations of all four continents. Pozzo worked to open up, even dissolve the actual surface of the nave's barrel vault illusionistically, arranging a perspectival projection to make an observer see a huge and lofty cupola (of a sort), open to the bright sky, and filled with upward floating figures.

This view shows the amazing perspective that is seen when under the arched ceiling.  What appears to be columns built into
 the higher walls of the church is actually just paint on a rounded arched ceiling.

All the gold you see here, including the cherub-like figures spanning the picture left and right of the dark clouds is just paint-
 the perspective gives the viewer the impression of some sort of crown moulding or trim, but that too is only paint.

By now we were anxious to get back to the hotel and pack for our flight home the next morning.  If you've read the other chapters of Viaggi a Roma, you're aware that by now I knew exactly which train to would get us to the airport- The Fiumicino Express, and that it would take 37 minutes.  As I packed my suitcase, I snapped a picture of a wall near our hotel in the Via Veneto neighborhood of Rome.  It's an Aurelian Wall (271-275 AD), built by the Emperor Aurelias as an emergency response to an invasion of the city by Vandal barbarians in 270 AD.  It's in great condition and is yet another wonderful architectural feature of the Eternal City.

I will end the story of our trip to Rome with the photo I used to start off the series, but was actually the last picture I took on the whole trip.  I hope you've enjoyed reading about it as much as I've enjoyed writing about it.

The sun setting over St. Peter's Basilica as it shines through the darkening clouds.


  1. Assolutamente magnifico!

    Sad to see it end. Great job Tuna!

  2. Tuna, did you hack into my computer and download my pictures? Because with the exception of a week in Cinque Terra, it looks like you and I went on the same vacation. Heck, even the weather looked the same. Caffe' Bernini even!
    Seriously, it was like reading a vacation log from last year, only better written! Glad you had a good time and a safe journey.

  3. Your friend who recommended you take time to split a bottle of wine on a piazza was a wise man; some of my fondest travel memories took place in cafés.

  4. Thanks gents- trip of a lifetime so the words flowed easily. The wine did too! When we go again, we'll spend much more time in those cafés since the sites are already seen.

  5. Tuna,

    Rome is definitely on my and she-formerly-known-as-Lipstick6's bucket list. Great pics and narratives. Best-


    (gotta get the avatar to work here)


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