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Tedgale Trip Report: Rome, Florence, Lucca, Cremona, Milan

Tedgale Trip Report: Rome, Florence, Lucca, Cremona, Milan

Old Mar 23rd, 2010, 05:12 AM
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Tedgale Trip Report: Rome, Florence, Lucca, Cremona, Milan

We returned last night from our 2.5 week trip to Italy (March 5-22, 2010). This was our 5th trip to Italy in the last 5 years -- it has become a March tradition for us, a way of escaping the last bits of winter in E. Ontario.

This time, I took my new Netbook and wrote daily entries. I have a 30 page blog, though I prefer to think of it as a very detailed Trip Report.

That's too lengthy for Fodors.com and it lacks web addresses, phone numbers and the like.... so I intend to extract the most useful and interesting excerpts and publish them here, as a series.

If anyone should ever want the wholeWord document, I would be glad to forward it.

By way of overview:
We flew KLM from Montreal to Amsterdam and then to Rome.
We spent 6 nights in Rome, 4 in Florence, 3 in Lucca, 2 in Cremona and the final night in Milan.
Yesterday, we flew KLM from Milan to Amsterdam, then Amsterdam to Montreal. (with a free KLM bus to Ottawa ON in both directions)

The flights were excellent. We are now even more sold on KLM than before.

We paid $970 Canadian or about $900 US (January 2010 exchange rate). We booked by phone from Savannah GA and got incredibly efficient service from the Northwest/ Delta telephone agent.

Every place we stayed was a "find" of sorts. The apartments we rented in Rome and Florence are "repeats" for us -- a 3rd time at each place. That by itself indicates our level of satisfaction.

The other 3 places were new to us and though wildly different, each hotel was good value. (In one case, such good value that I hesitate to share the address....)

In Rome, our Tiber-view one bedroom apartment with 2 terraces, located at Lungotevere Marzio 10, cost us 104 E night, off-season rate:

Our Florence apartment, very well situated on the Oltrarno at via Ardiglione 22, was a special last-minute deal -- 75 E per night for a grand, 900 sq foot one bedroom apartment on a garden:

Just 5-10 minutes south of Lucca (just off the Lucca-Pisa road, Strada Statale 12) is the Albergo Villa Marta. We got a special off-season/ midweek rate of 69 E/ night including breakfast, at this 4 star country-house hotel:

Just 5 minutes outside Cremona, we paid 70 E/ night (includes breakfast) at an unusual place, Al Carrobbio. This locanda (inn) used to be just a restaurant. Four years ago, the owners developed an annex into 7 large, comfortable rooms, rather austerely furnished with Victorian furniture (but with TVs, Wi-Fi and all the usual amenities):

Finally, we needed a place to stay overnight in or around Milan. As we were dining with friends in Sesto San Giovanni, in the NE corner of Milan, we were prevailed upon to stay in Sesto and drive to Linate the next morning for our flight. Booking through Venere.com, we got a rate of 70 E/ night, including buffet breakfast and free parking, at Hotel Barone di Sassj, a 3 minute walk from our awaiting dinner. (The hotel website's rack-rate was 140 E)

This address may be of little use to most readers here.

But if you are looking for a very attractive, though not characterful, businessman's hotel next to a subway stop and thus 15 minutes from central Milan, this is a good choice:
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Old Mar 23rd, 2010, 05:41 AM
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Hi-Your post was great timing for me. My daughter and I are planning to visit Italy May 9-23. We will fly into Rome and out of Milan. We think we will stay 3 nights in Rome, 4 nights in the Siena area-maybe not in the same place-, 2 nights in Florence, 3 nights in the CT area, and at least 1 in Milan. Was the Milan place an easy trip to the airport? Did you turn in your car at the airport or in town?
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Old Mar 23rd, 2010, 06:00 AM
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We returned the car at Linate airport. It is remarkably small and easy to reach. Malpensa is much farther.

We travelled from Sesto to Linate in the heaviest of rush hour traffic. It took 40 minutes door to door. Some of that was stop-and-go/quasi-gridlock.

It could be as little as 20 minutes -- say, on weekends.

We were pleased to find an AGIP station at the entrance to Linate, for refuelling before drop-off.

Our car rental was Hertz, booked through Autoeurope (Canadian site -- a bit cheaper than US website).

Hertz does not usually charge us a drop off fee: we picked up in central Florence.

We visited Cinque Terre area one morning. Unless you have an especial desire to stay in one of the towns, I would not choose to stay in that area.

From what we could see, the seashore areas south of the Cinque Terre, eg Forte dei Marmi, are very heavily (and not beautifully) developed. La Spezia is dull.

FWIW, we drove from Lucca to La Spezia in about an hour.
We did not walk between the towns, because my spouse is on heart medication and tires easily, but we did drive the road above the towns, stopping all along the way.

It is very picturesque but we found 2-3 hours was all the time we wanted to spend in the area. We also drove out of La Spezia to Portovenere. Nice but no cigar.

Others here will have a very different take, of course.
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Old Mar 23rd, 2010, 08:56 AM
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I think I'll do restaurants next.

One of our reasons for preferring to rent apartments is that we enjoy the chance to shop for and cook with local ingredients. Morever, I just can NOT eat in restaurants every evening.

When we dined out in Rome, Florence, Lucca and Cremona, we never had what I would consider a truly exceptional meal. For one thing, we were not motivated to go to a really high-end restaurant, after a long day of sightseeing.

But we often ate well and never had a disaster. Only one meal was lustreless to the point of dullness. I'll mention the restaurant name, because it may yet be of interest to budget travelers: Antica Taverna, via di Monte Giordano (Navona/ Coronari area) Rome.

My blog records the following: "My penne were dull, R`s antipasto misto di verdure only a little better. We both had rabbit stew with olives and grilled cauliflower to follow -- not a lot of meat, good vegetables. With a bottle of house red, it was a shockingly low 34 euros."

More interesting occasions followed:

Osteria del Pegno, in tiny vicolo Montevecchio between via dei Coronari and Piazza Montevecchio (near Piazza Navona) is one of my favourite places in the Centro Storico.


The Sunday night when we dined there was not their greatest night but I would still go back, no question. My blog entry:

"Dinner was at Osteria del Pegno, just off the via dei Coronari. It was still doing turn-away business on a chilly Sunday evening. I had tagliatelle with speck and artichokes, then garlicky abbacchio with roast potatoes; R had salumi with grilled vegetables, then maialino di latte, also with potatoes. The Sicilian house red was fine for such simple fare.

"It was a plain meal and we felt initially that it had been less special than other visits. But when we declined dessert and asked for the bill, we were served a few squares of shortbread dessert with almonds and apricot glaze, plus a plate of tangerines and a couple of iced limoncellos. Suddenly, we and the entire evening took on a pleasanter glow.

"Massimo, the do-nothing scapegrace whom the owner constantly berates, finally brought us our bill. It seems to be his only function -- he leaves all the serving to the hard-worked waiter. Mostly, he wanders the room smiling. And calculates the bills, apparently.

"The total (64,50 E) was a bit less than I expected -- and every figure on the bill was wrong. Undercharged for some items, we were over-charged for others.

"Not worth debating. We paid …and were bowed out with some ceremony."

Another very unpretentious favourite is Il Portico, in the Ghetto area. No website as far as I can discover but here is a link to Tripadvisor reviews:


My blog note is longish and not all of it is about the food. I will give you the whole entry, for the sake of the local colour:

"After this surfeit (of painting and sculpture, at the Borghese), we sought a palate-cleansing experience: Dinner at Il Portico restaurant, near the Portico d’ Ottavia.

"We expected Roman crowds at this trattoria, always full when we visited before. On this rainy evening, there was one table of American kids. What innocent egotism washes away all self-consciousness, so they can prattle on in public about …their favourite Taco Bell menu items? When they are sitting -- dining -- in one of the cradles of western civilization?

"Our previous experience of Il Portico was of a humble, honest trattoria where neighbours convene to eat well and reasonably. That at least had not changed: My fettuccine con funghi porcini was exemplary, as were R’s carciofi alla Giudea.

"We both enjoyed our protein-laden second courses: respectively, a mixed grill and abbacchio allo scottadito, with a shared side-order of grilled radicchio.

"With a litre of Montepulciano and a litre of sparkling water, we paid 55 Euro plus tip.

"It was raining harder when we left. There seems something millennial about the weather these days. Roman streets, like streets everywhere, are not flat. The rain creates rivulets, channels, whole watercourses around which we have to navigate. My shoes are pulpy, my trousers are wicks for filthy street-water. Rome at least is spared the indignity afflicting Orte and Viterbo, only 1 hour north: Paralyzing snow. Meanwhile, at home in Canada, a week of unseasonably mild weather is obliterating all signs of an already mild winter...."
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Old Mar 23rd, 2010, 09:10 AM
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I had a shortlist of places to dine in Florence and only 3 nights free to try them. In the end, we ate out only once.

My shortlist of places around our apartment was: Florence restaurants:
1. Cavolo Nero v dell'Ardiglione 22 -- our fancy next door neighbour
2. I' Cche c'e c'e v Magalotti 11R E of v proconsolo nr P.za della Signoria 055 216 589 -- NOT an Oltrarno restaurant but often noted in trip reports
3. Trattoria la Casalinga v Michelozzi 9R between V Maggio + P.zza S. Spirito -- very close to the church of Santo Spirito; very "cheap and cheerful"
4. Vecchia Bettola, viale Pratolini 3 (P.zza Tasso) 055 224 158 -- well reputed but closed most of the nights we were free
5. Antico ristoro di Cambi v San Onofrio 1R -- 055 217 134; I've eaten there and loved it but I've also been disappointed. Hugely popular with Florentines, though.
6. Il Cantinone v. Santo Spirito 6R off Piazza Santa Trinita; Tues-Sun 12:30-2:30pm and 7:30-10:30pm Tel. 055-218-898, 055-225-955 www.ilcantinonedifirenze.it
7. Olio e Convivium, Cantinone's next-door neighbour, recommended by my sister-in-law.

In the end, it was Il Cantinone where we dined and it was a success -- more so than the rather dry account below would lead you to believe:

"Tonight, R wants to dine out. We choose a Fodors recommendation, Il Cantinone in via Santo Spirito.

"We order, respectively, the stuffed carciofi -- artichoke with bread stuffing -- and the antipasto misto di cinghiale (wild boar sausage, salumi and in smoked form).

"To follow: for me, faraona (guinea fowl) in a rich tomato sauce with black olives; R takes a dish of pork sausage with fagioli. We share the orders of contorni: patate arroste + grilled radicchio, as we also share a bottle of Chianti ---a real “fiasco”, the first I have seen in 30 years.

"We end up speaking to the folks at nearby tables -- the Aberdeen engineer and his wife, the Concord MA lad who is lodging in Perugia before returning to his college in New Orleans.

"With coperto (cover) and sparkling water, our bill is a puny 57 E."
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Old Mar 23rd, 2010, 09:35 AM
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Finally, I will list 3 very interesting places in or near Lucca.

1. Ristorante La Cecca, which my research said was "some of the best food in Lucca area, large professional restaurant, popular with the locals for a business lunch".
La Cecca is approximately 7 minutes walk from the Villa Marta hotel. Closed on Mondays and Wednesday evenings.
Tel: 0583-94-284

2. A short drive from the hotel is La Quercia, a fine pizzeria- trattoria in the village of Santa Maria del Giudice.

3. Cantine Bernardini, via del Suffragio, 7: Praised by all and sundry on tripadvisor, for atmosphere, reception and food. It is located about 5 minutes walk north of the Duomo in the historic centre of Lucca
tel./fax 0583/494336 –
e.mail: [email protected]

My blog noted:

"Dinner at La Cecca starts with a plate of deep-fried beignets -- not sure how you’d call these in Italian.

"Then pappardelle al sugo di cinghiale for me and for R., a warm insalatina of farro (a spelt-like grain) with cherry tomatoes and shavings of parmigiano topped with a sprig of fresh basil.

"This is followed, for both, by coniglio in casseruola, an ample leg of rabbit covered and surrounded with the fennel branches with which it had been cooked -- the dish has a lovely anise overtone -- and a side order of rapini (celery). Our very pleasant red wine comes from the hills around Lucca. The total bill is 59,50 E."

My comments on La Quercia are more extensive, because it was such a great and unexpected suprise:

"Dinner is at nearby La Quercia, an unprepossessing place in Santa Maria del Giudice, on the SS 12, the main Pisa-Lucca Road. The restaurant has genteel “draperies” over its plate-glass windows. Though the hotel has recommended this restaurant, we are a bit sceptical.

"Dinner turns out to be a triumphant success. Yes, there are some anomalous qualities -- the Queen soundtrack, for example. We are won over, however, by the eagerness and friendliness of the owner and his wife. And by the plate of bruschette (with tomato), flat-bread and beignet that is brought before the meal.

"My first course is a “souté” (sic) of cozze and vongole -- a large dish of 30 steamed mussels and perhaps 10 clams. R has an antipasto della terra: mortadella, prosciutto crudo and speck with a slice of bread topped with tomato and basil, a slice of bread with a warm paté and another piece of bread spread with tartar sauce.

"With this we order a side dish of verdure grigliate: grilled eggplant, zucchini and yellow pepper.

"The next course is a huge calzone of ham and artichokes for R …and for me, a pizza garnished with rucola (arugula), bresaola and Parmesan cheese.

"When we ask for the bill, we are offered a glass of limoncello or grappa. With a litre of house wine and a bottle of water, the total is 51 E."

Cantine Bernardini was rather empty the night we dined there. The staff were unfailingly kind and very serious about what they do:

Dinner is at the Cantine Bernardine, in the cellars of the huge and opulent Palazzo Bernardine.

"It would, certainly, have been a livelier evening if there had been more than 3 tables of guests. (Thursday night, off-season in Lucca, is…dead.) But these are people who love their region and its food and can talk for hours about the special qualities of a specific olive oil.

"The refined menu is built around 100% local products and home-preparation (the cook even cures his own beef for the carpaccio).

"With a great local wine chosen by the sommelier and a litre of sparkling water, this cost 62,50E plus tip. We floated away afterward, through Lucca‘s silent, shuttered streets.

"We had:
R: Girello di manzo (beef) in carpaccio, marinated with pink and green peppers and cumin, accompanied with an artichoke alla Giudea
Lonza di maiale (breaded pork loin) with sun-dried tomatoes and a tortino of potatoes and fennel

T: Tagliatelle di farro (spelt-flour pasta) and rosemary with a ragu of ground rabbit and rabbit livers
Duck breast in a light sesame-seed covering with half an oven-roasted red onion and a purée of sedano rapa (celeriac)"

We also wanted to try, but could not because of their weekly closures, the following places, which are also very near the hotel:

Ristorante Pizzeria "A Bimbotto"
Via di Vorno, 177 - Vorno, (Capannori, Lucca)
Tel +390583/971193

Antica Trattoria Stefani,
Closed Tue. & Wed.
Tel: 0583-379-031
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Old Mar 23rd, 2010, 10:24 AM
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Bookmarking to read later.
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Old Mar 23rd, 2010, 12:59 PM
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I have 500 photos to assemble, winnow and shape into albums. All shot with a little point and click digital camera. Someday I will graduate to something better but for my present purposes, this level of technical sophistication is just right.

Here's an album I created for fun. It's called "Images, Message and Signs: The inanimate speaks to us".

I've always photographed a lot of buildings but lately I notice I'm recording written words more -- especially graffiti.

I also photographing representations or facsimiles of humans: mannequins, portraits, statues, religious icons. Also animals as symbols: lions, serpents and the like.

Now, graffiti abounds (or more correctly: abound) in Italy. As do religious representations and symbols, whether Christian or pagan.

Ancient Rome was also one of the well-springs of portraiture, a tradition that has continued through the centuries.

Italy is a centre of fashion images and viewing the latest shop windows is a national pastime.

So Italy played into all my interests. Here are some of the shots I took. Not all of them are great photos but they all have some intellectual fascination or sentimental association for me. So they're really "photos of my trip", as much as anything.

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Old Mar 23rd, 2010, 02:34 PM
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Thanks for your interesting report. Makes me want to go back to Italy right now! Really enjoyed your photos.
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Old Mar 23rd, 2010, 03:09 PM
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You fancy boys from Up North certainly know how to live it up.

I can see you walking the Via Margutta with your Prada manbags. You do Ambrose Price proud.

Chin up, sweetie darling.

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Old Mar 23rd, 2010, 03:48 PM
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I did pack some Prada and Zegna but I mostly wore jeans!

I think I'll continue with some highlights of our time in Rome:

1. The Aventine.
"We crossed the Tiber and climbed the Aventine. At the top, we found a crowd lined up to peep through a keyhole in the gate leading to the residence of the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta.

"I duly lined up and was delighted with the unexpected view: an avenue of cedars, framing a view of the distant cupola of St. Peter’s. There was something magical about being simultaneously excluded (physically) and admitted (visually) to the mystery behind the high doors.

"In the same square, 2 fatigue-clad soldiers with submachine guns patrolled outside the gates of the Egyptian delegation to the Holy See. Patrolled …but mostly gossiped and posed. They looked hot and they knew it.

"Down the road, we visited Santa Sabina, whose interior decoration dates from the early years after the fall of the Empire. Modern elements, such as the clerestory windows, add to the austere mystery of this bare, solemn place.

"All around this hilltop eyrie are pretty parks and open spaces. One park has a fine avenue of pines, alongside which grow orange trees, currently laden with fruit. The view from the belvedere is of the wide sweep of the Tiber, a series of cupole, turrets and brick campanili and, in the distance, presiding over all these lesser thrusts, St Peter‘s great dome. We made our way down to the lungotevere on a “clivo” -- a steep laneway -- paved in glossy Sanpietrini.

"The clivo twists down the hillside between high banks. High up on one bank, someone has painted this message: “Roma, rimanerai eterna, dentro me.”

“Rome, you remain eternal, inside of me“.

2. The Edward Hopper Show at the Fondazione Roma:
"With our early start today, we had no problem getting to the Fondazione di Roma by 10 am, where we were nearly the first visitors to the Edward Hopper exhibition.

"This show of 160 works of the great American painter draws heavily from the collection of the Whitney, to which Hopper’s widow left 3000 works. The surprises and memorable highlights of the show:
- Hopper’s Paris paintings -- bright empty expanses of the Seine and its quais, to which the familiar Paris buildings and the pulsating life of the city are just a distant, detached background
- His commercial illustration: since he did not sell a single painting from 1913 to 1923, his “picturesque” commercial treatments, which he hated, were his meal ticket for years
- The numerous studies and analyses that each canvas demanded, as Hopper worked out every aspect of the painting in minute detail -- even writing character sketches for the people he portrayed
- His taste for rural life: he portrayed Truro, MA as lovingly as New York and its “nighthawks”
- His ambivalent attitude to the women in his pictures -- I was familiar with the solitary, independent and rather sad women but was surprised by his prurient depictions of nudes in awkward, undignified poses

"The security staff of this private museum, if you’re interested, are some of the most beautiful young women in Rome. Average age 23, I’d say.

"Immaculately groomed. Erect carriage. Beautiful, long, glossy hair. Flawless skin. Each wears the same uniform: a discreet but form-fitting navy blue suit over a thin white v-neck sweater; black stockings and glossy black shoes with modest 2 inch heels. What casting couch -- or convent-based training program -- produced these princesses?"

To be continued.....
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Old Mar 23rd, 2010, 03:50 PM
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tedgale - Nicely done. Thanks for sharing.

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Old Mar 23rd, 2010, 03:55 PM
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3. The Villa Borghese:
"A couple of weeks ago, R called Italy and booked us tickets for the 1 pm viewing at the Borghese Gallery.

"I have always tried to avoid crowds, when travelling. I accept, in consequence, that I will never again visit the Vatican or the Louvre, both of which are irretrievably ruined for me. I also bridle at the prospect of being marched through a museum at someone else’s pace.

"Museums and galleries were not like that, in the distant, privileged world of my youth, before international travel became everyone’s birthright.

"The memory of Sunday’s block-long lines at the Hopper show were still fresh in my mind when we headed off around noon for the Borghese.

"We took the 116 bus, a tiny jitney that banged and rattled up the via Veneto with its cargo of museum-goers. Our instructions were clear: arrive 30 minutes ahead of admission time, to claim our tickets and deposit all our extraneous belongings at the “consegna”.

"I’ll cut to the chase, in my assessment:
- It’s a well-run museum where the staff process the crowds with great dispatch
- If you can possibly avoid checking things (all bags, cameras, umbrellas must be checked) you can pick up your tickets and get into the museum in 5-10 minutes
- Conversely, we saw people still waiting to check items 15 minutes after their visit was to start
- 360 people are admitted every 2 hours, on the dot. You may encounter thick crowds at times -- especially when there are school groups -- but we often found ourselves alone in a room
- Many people seem rather baffled by the museum and we found most of the crowds had departed well before their 2 hours were up
- The painting collection is huge and much of it, to my fairly practised eye, is pretty dull, both in subject matter (overwhelmingly religious) and in execution
- I liked best the Florentine and Venetian paintings and the tiny handful of German works, including Cranach’s masterwork
- The main floor statuary collection is a staggering sensory experience. If you focus on the Bernini masterpieces -- always given pride of place in the centre of the room -- you’re seeing the best of the best
- Don’t look for the logic of this collection - it hasn’t one. It was assembled over 2 centuries, with additional gifts, purchases, inheritances and extortions from other collectors. At least 200 items of the collection were sold to Napoleon. It no longer reflects the taste of Scipione Borghese -- it is an amalgam.

"This is a place for connoisseurs. It does not produce warm, fuzzy feelings. It has no endearing eccentricities. All the simple grandeur of the early 17th C villa was scrubbed away in the grandiose neo-classical refit of the 1780s.

"In the end, I did not object at all to the regimentation, nor did I resent the crowds. I did balk, rather, at the unimaginable opulence of the setting and stories of the Borghese family’s repellent avarice.

"These people wanted to swallow the whole world. I find this tendency disgusting enough in more recent collectors -- Isabella Stewart Gardiner comes to mind -- and more revolting still in men of the cloth.

"I’m still glad I went. Some of the works in the collection are exquisite beyond any power of mine to convey.

" In dismal rain, we walked away from the villa, down broad avenues that were still in private hands only 100 or so years ago. Soon we rejoined the (all too) mortal world of strap-hangers on the Metropolitana...."
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Old Mar 23rd, 2010, 04:03 PM
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4. The Capitoline Museum (and don't forget the Ara Coeli church next door):
"After our ritual stop in the courtyard to pay our respects to the Giant Foot and other outsize human members rendered in marble, we climbed to the upper floor.

"The frescoed council chambers had been transformed into a beehive. A temporary show was being mounted, as huge hunks of classical sculpture were hauled up to an open window by a massive crane.

"An artisan had set up his bandsaw and other, finer tools in the middle of the room -- he was doing final tweaks on the pedestals and plinths for the sculptures.

"As with any Italian workplace, a lot of people were standing around “consulting” on what should be done next and how it should be done. “How many Italians does it take to drop a statue?” I asked R.

" I really cannot describe this museum -- 2.5 museums, in fact, if you count the Palazzo Nuovo as a separate museum (you should) and count as 0.5 of a museum the underground passage linking the two museums and the outlook over the Forum.

"It comprises:
- The historic rooms of the much-overhauled medieval palazzo, with their pompous frescoes of Rome‘s glorious history
- The upstairs pinacoteca (mostly lousy ecclesiastical art, leavened with a Caravaggio or 2, some Titians, 2 Van Dycks, a Velasquez and the world’s biggest Guercino canvas
- The excavated remains of a 5th C BC temple, the original bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius and the recovered statuary of half the “horti’ (grand suburban estates) of Imperial Rome
- The most splendid museum café in Rome, with a huge terrace overlooking the museum garden, the city and the Tiber -- the staff are all posers and layabouts, as they should be, in such a setting
- An underground passage with every form of carved Latin inscription -- military, funerary, religious, whatever
- The Palazzo Nuovo, pretty much the oldest public museum in the western world: Roman sculpture from the Republic and the Empire is displayed here exactly as it was when a long-ago 18th C Pope created this institution. Check out the Dying Gaul, the Capitoline Venus and other celebrated works. We would ALL like to know who that Pope’s decorator was. That place is chic like most of us can only dream about."
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Old Mar 23rd, 2010, 06:10 PM
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Reading on my iPhone and your report is worth going blind over! (sorry really bad grammar & sentiment) but had to
thank you for
great info for my June trip
More questions later when home from
road trip.
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Old Mar 23rd, 2010, 06:14 PM
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I've got 30 pages of this stuff. Happy to answer any questions I can
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Old Mar 23rd, 2010, 06:29 PM
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As always, an exercise in eloquence and sophistication, complete with mouth-watering detail and interesting observation. Thank you Ted.
I've only briefly skimmed this but will give it the full attention it deserves when I have more time on the weekend.

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Old Mar 24th, 2010, 02:49 AM
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5. Free concerts in Rome churches:
Everywhere in Rome there is music. Often, when you visit an historic church, you may see a sign for an upcoming concert. We attended two in our immediate neighbourhood -- a nice short (1.5 hour max.) program and a nice way to round out an evening:

"At the Portoghesi church of St Antony, a curate was inviting everyone to an organ concert the next evening -- “the finest organ in Rome” with distinguished guest organists each week. We decided we’ll attend it, at 6:30 tomorrow.

"The organist was testing the instrument during our visit. I’d heard of, but have never felt, the thrill that comes from the swell and boom of a great pipe-organ; that afternoon I FELT it. Majestic is the only word that describes the sound.

"(R says: Don’t write ‘swelling organ’ in your blog)"

I did not much like the modern program that the organist played, though I liked the Haydn. A more complete success was a later concert at San Luigi dei Francesi, also a very few steps from our apartment:

"Tonight there was a concert of Russian choral music, part of the year-long celebration of Franco-Russian cultural symbiosis and general amity. The male choir is called Russkaja Dusha (The Russian soul). They are Rome residents with day jobs. They are superb.

"Half their program was religious music of the Orthodox church, half was popular melodies of Russia, the Ukraine and the Slav states nearest Italy.

"In this marble-clad church, whose acoustics should have been cold and clammy, they produced a rich, warm, reverberating sound. Without apparent amplification, they made 12 voices sound like 40.

"Just off to my left, I can see Caravaggio’s canvas of St Matthew.

"From the first notes, I am transported: It is Mother Russia, Chaliapin, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Tolstoy, Dr. Zhivago, Marlene Dietrich as The Scarlet Empress, droshkys in the snow, sunrise on the steppes.

"I was raised to sneer at the benighted Soviets: their frumpy, thick-ankled womenfolk, their dour and doctrinaire men. This music was a reminder that there is a Russian soul and that it is a capacious, hungry, eager and responsive one."
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Old Mar 24th, 2010, 03:14 AM
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6. The Caravaggio show at the Scuderie (stables) of the Quirinale:
The first time we went, we could not get in. Without a timed ticket it was hopeless. We went to an Internet point and booked. Book as early in the morning as possible -- even with timed tickets, it gets very crowded after about 10:30 am. Perhaps the evening is quiet, too. Dunno:

"We reached the Quirinale around 11 am.

"On one side of the door was the line-up of people with reservations -- people who stood outside through the intermittent cloud-bursts to get in with their timed ticket.

"Occasionally, a bored guard-ette allowed 5 or 6 of them into the building. I heard one older man humbly thank this woman for admitting him.

"These were the elect.

"On the other side of the door were the damned: the People with No Reservation. There were a lot of them. These people could be admitted only after all the people with reserved tickets got in and a sufficient number of people inside decided to depart.

"Switch to Plan B...."

And here is the report of our visit to this wonderful show:

"There has been such pressure for admission to the show that they now open 30 minutes early, at 9:30 rather than 10 am. Very few people seem to know this and the online reservation system has not been amended to allow 9:30 bookings.

"We arrived at 9:30, joined a short queue and soon were admitted despite having tickets for 10 am. This was all quite providential, as the crowds soon became dense. We were able to contemplate the pictures in peace; no one arriving later could do that.

"The show is not large -- we went through in 1.5 hours -- but it contains all the best and most famous of the master’s works. There are loans from the Hermitage, The National Gallery in London, the Metropolitan in NYC and a couple of other US museums (Kansas City and Fort Worth -- who knew?) plus items commandeered from top Italian museums: The Uffizi, Barberini, Capitoline, Corsini, Borghese and the privately owned Doria-Pamphilj.

"There is even one stunning painting from a private Rome collection -- the rejected original of The Conversion of St Paul, of which the very different second version is in S.ta Maria del Popolo.

"The narrative that accompanied the works is one of the most intelligent I have ever encountered. The way of grouping the pictures - some chronologically, others thematically, was illuminating and very sensitive.

"I felt very civilized, among civilized art-lovers in a very civilized institution (once you get past the front gate) and in the presence of masterworks of a mercurial (but always civilized) genius of Baroque painting.

"We are charmed by a gaggle of well behaved school-kids with their teacher. They cannot be more than 6 years old. Caravaggio seems a trifle advanced a subject for kids this young but Italians would not agree.

"Everywhere we have seen groups of students -- mostly teens but some much younger -- who have been brought to see great works of art. True, some of the teens spend their time groping each other or texting absent friends. Others are polite but bored. But some are rapt.

"The 6 year olds are seated on the floor while the teacher explains a painting of Judith Beheading Holofernes. The scene shows Holofernes at the exact point of death - his head half-severed, his blood spurting -- as Judith cuts through the remaining flesh of his neck. Very Grand guignol.

"If this were Canada, parents would be asked to sign a waiver, certifying that they accept their child’s exposure to 1. “potentially disturbing” and 2. “faith-based” subject matter. I start liking Italians more.

"Berlusconi is right: “Italy is a Catholic country”. Catholicism -- itself the source of violence in the past -- is quite at home with horror and human suffering. It’s intrinsic to mortal man’s flawed and sinful state.

"I am also struck by the light reflecting from the canvas onto the upturned faces of the children in this darkened room. The effect is purely Caravaggesque -- the chiaroscuro of the faces of putti in one of the master’s canvases."
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Old Mar 24th, 2010, 03:55 AM
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Did not log onto Fodors yesterday so this was such a pleasant surprise to see your new posting. Your trip reports are always full of good reading and info.

My husband and I are so grateful to you for the mention a year or so back of a particular restaurant that has become one of our favorites in Rome for its food, ambiance and Mossimo, who now has the chef fix one of his (Mossimo's) special pastas each time we go (which is at least 3X per trip)
Like you we go to Rome annually and rent the same apartment and never tire of that great city.

Thanks to you for taking the time and effort to share your travels.
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