Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Rome 2013 - Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona is one of the most beautiful squares in Rome. The square was built on top of the Stadium of Domitian, built by Emperor Domitian in the 1st Century AD - which explains the long and oblong shape. In the centre of the square is one of the most impressive fountains in Rome - the Fountain of the Four rivers, designed by one of the great Italian artist and architect Bernini.

Facing the centre fountain is Sant'Agnese in Agone - a church designed by one of the main rivals of Bernini - Borromini. Though the work was attributed to Borromini - especially the main facade, many other architects were called in to work on the building. As a result the building reflects a mix of different architectural approaches. It is still an impressive building - especially the ornate interior which must have cost a fortune to execute. Visiting Europe - I am always amazed at how much money the clients and patrons were willing to lavish on the buildings, and how patient they were waiting for the buildings to take shape. Perhaps they did not have the distraction of super cars and Lear jets in those days.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Rome 2013 - The Colosseum

The Colosseum is just beside the Roman Forum and is probably an even bigger attraction though it is just a single building. It was started by Emperor Vespasian in 72 AD and completed in 80 AD, taking just 8 years - a remarkable feat considering the size and scale of the building. Clad in white marble and more then 10-storeys high, accommodating 87,000 spectators - it must have been quite a spectacle in its days. Even today it is an awe-inspiring sight.

The Colosseum was a political tool of the Emperor - built to provide free entertainment to the public in a bid to increase the Emperor's popularity. Of course we all know what happened in these arenas of doom - where gladiators fight to their death and thousands of animals were killed just for the sake of entertaining the masses. 

Putting aside images of the blood bath that must have happened here - the Colosseum is an ingenious feat of engineering and architecture. Amazingly it is still the largest amphitheatre in the World according to the Guinness Book of Records.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Rome 2013 - The Roman Forum

The Roman Forum is the most important historical site in Rome, and this was where ancient Rome itself was founded. Developed organically over centuries, this was the centre of the cultural, religious, and commercial life in the city. Now when you visit all you see are ruins, but these are the ruins of some of the most important buildings in Roman history. 

It is a strange feeling, standing on the same ground where senators and emperors used to stand thousands of years ago. In fact scenes from countless movies and TV shows start to play in your head. It took a while before I was able to calm my mind and appreciate what was right in front of my eyes. And the ruins were magnificent.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Rome 2013 - Along the River Tiber

The River Tiber flows through Rome and divide the city into the Eastern and Western sections. It is the 2nd longest river in Italy - the River Po being the longest. On the Eastern side is the old city where you find the Roman Forum, The Pantheon, the Spanish Steps and other popular historic sights. On the Western side is the Vatican City and other districts, most notably Trastevere which is becoming a popular destination for its trendy restaurants, pubs and cafes. 

We took a walk along the Tiber one evening. The East bank of the river is lined with sycamore trees with branches which arch toward the river - creating a beautiful tunnel of leaves which stretches for miles.

The river is crossed by several ancient bridges, some of which date from 27 B.C.

Along the way you will also see historical landmarks such as the Castel Sant'Angelo - a Mausoleum commissioned by Emperor Hadrian for himself and his family.

Next to the Castel is another interesting landmark - the  Corte Suprema di Cassazione, which is the Supreme Court of Italy. This handsome building was built in 1910 in the Renaissance and Baroque style.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Rome 2013 - Dinner at Rosa Rosae

Even though Rome is the largest city in Italy, the historical centre is quite compact and walkable. Staying near The Pantheon like we did, we were almost at the centre of the city. We could walk almost anywhere  - the Vatican City is about 1.5 km away, so is the Coloseum. The Trevi Fountain is only 500m from our hotel.

With all the walking about, we had worked up quite an appetite come dinner time. We bumped into a small restaurant on a busy street - Rosa Rosae on Via di Pietra. The menu looked good and the wait staff were very friendly. We were hungry so we said why not.

We ordered several dishes to share. The Antipasti Platter came with generous slices of salami, ham, prosciutto and cheese. It was the envy of many guests on other tables.

The Pasta Carbonara was the best I had ever tasted. The sauce was made from traditional recipe without the usual creamy mess that you get in lessor restaurants,  and had a very pleasant top note of a good wine in the sauce.

The Seafood Risotto came with really fresh baby octopus, clams, mussels, prawns and squid. It was really delicious. The rice was al dente, yet giving in easily to the bite and had soaked up all the tasty juices of the seafood. 

We also ordered a Seafood Soup which also came with mussels and clams. This seamed like a repeat of the risotto but the mussels and clams were so fresh and delicious we didn't mind at all.

Reading reviews on the restaurant after the trip, I discovered that there are a quite a number of unhappy customers at this restaurant. The typical complaint was that the place was a tourist trap - charging high prices for mediocre food. Others complaint about the service charge. Our experience was a very positive one - we had great food, the service was fast and friendly, and the bill was very reasonable for what we had. There are also many positive reviews beside the negative ones. Give it a try and see for yourself.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Rome 2013 - St Peter's Basilica and The Vatican Museum

If you are planning to visit the Vatican Museum then you should pre-book the tickets online to avoid the long wait. The queues are impossibly long and you could be wasting at least one and a half to two hours. 

Entry to St Peter's Basilica is free - but unfortunately there is no way to avoid the queues. We went quite early but the queue was just too long so we sadly had to skip going inside the Basilica.

A model in the lobby of the Vatican Museum gives you a good idea of what the overall complex looks and feels like from a higher vantage point.

The Vatican Museum is one of the most important museums in all of Europe. It houses a huge collection of art works collected by the Catholic Church over the centuries - including some of the most important masterpieces of paintings and sculpture. Then of course there is the famous ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo. Unfortunately photography is not allowed in the Chapel. It is one of the most magnificent art works I have ever seen.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Rome 2013 - La Passeggiata

The Italians have a custom called "La Passaggiata" - "Little Walk" - where every evening around 5.00 p.m. they would drop everything, dress up in their finest, go to the streets and walk around. In the small towns they would walk up and down the same streets. In the cities of course there are much bigger areas to cover. This is the time where the woman would catch up with their friends for the latest gossips, the men would meet each other for a walk and drinks, and families enjoy their time together in the beautiful streets and squares. What a great way to enjoy the towns and cities - in fact every country should follow this custom.

In Rome the most popular areas for this charming pass time is Via Condotti, Via del Babuino and Via del Corso - the main shopping streets.