My Roman Holiday

The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore

Unlike Italian kids, I don’t have school on Saturdays, so I decided a quick trip to Rome was in order. I took a 7:30 train from Orvieto, arriving at the Rome train station (Termini) around 8:45. My completely unplanned day of touring started at Santa Maria Maggiore because it was very close to the station. It was a glorious morning.

Having grabbed the Michelin Guide to Rome before I left the house, I took its walking tour of the area and was led to a beautiful park replete with kids playing basketball, people walking dogs, and folks practicing tai chi (I think). I had never seen this mellow side of Rome before.

My itch to see new things satisfied, I craved a visit to my BFF, Gian Lorenzo Bernini. I started with the best of the best: St. Teresa in Ecstasy. I got deliciously lost on the way and enjoyed the bustling city, beautiful day, and the opportunity to ask for directions.

Angels and Demons fever has hit the church where St. Theresa lives in perpetual – some have called it orgasmic – ecstasy. Bernini’s work, including this sculpture, were central to the plot of Dan Brown’s  best-seller and Tom Hanks’ movie. There are now Angels and Demons tours of Rome. I recommend reading the book just before or during a visit to Rome and doing your own Bernini tour. You’ll spot several examples of artistic license. The church was much more crowded than it has been on previous visits, when we had it practically to ourselves. The crowds didn’t detract from the WOW factor, though –  that sculpture gets me every time.

Looking down the Spanish Steps into Via Condotti

I was in a Bernini kind of mood, so I walked by his Triton Statue in Piazza Barberini.  From there, I strolled up to the top of the Spanish steps and soaked up the beautiful view and day.  I wasn’t alone –  there was quite a crowd from the top all the way down to the plaza.  This was the first really beautiful, spring-like day after a long period of rain, and Romans seemed to hit the streets in celebration.

Beauty was emerging as the theme of the day, so I joined the beautiful people on a stroll down Rome’s most fashionable shopping street, the molto elegante Via Condotti. Strange to think that this thoroughfare, lined as it is with the likes of  Gucci, Armani, and Ferragamo, is named after the waterways, or conduits (condotti), that were built there to feed the oldest baths in Rome, built in 19 BC.  A toney street named after plumbing. Go figure.

Almost before I knew it, I was in one of my favorite neighborhoods in Rome –  Piazza Navona (designed, by the way, by my pal Bernini). As much as I love the piazza and its sculptures, I relish every chance to wander (read: get lost in) the surrounding neighborhood.  The maze of narrow streets, tiny and hidden piazzas, with lanes and little streets intersecting at odd angles makes it impossible for me to maintain any sense of direction.  Being lost back there is a wonderful way to spend a half an hour or more if I just give myself up to it.

For lunch, I went to the Pantheon to orient myself and then found another old friend, Coppelle, a trattoria where Paul and I have eaten many times.  I had vegetable soup and succeeded in getting a half-order (“mezza porzione”) of pasta.

I went past the Forum and the Colosseum on my way back to the train station, which was, by now, quite a distance away. Taking in some of the best of all antiquity made the walk feel like a short one.  I caught the metro (subway) at the Colosseum and rode the two stops back to the train station.

I found myself with time to kill in the train station (note to self: next time, check schedule before leaving), but there was plenty to do and the people-watching was beyond compare.  The station has a reputation as a good place to be pick-pocketed, so I had to remind myself to be vigilant.  It didn’t feel at all threatening, so remembering to protect my personal space was my only struggle.

I celebrated my perfect Roman holiday by blowing an extra 5 euro for first class on the way home.  Heaven knows I love the upgrades.

I was back at the Orvieto station before 6 and in time to meet up there with Jonathan and Joe, who had spent the day in Florence and had come to see Orvieto and Benano.

And yes, Gentle Reader, there IS more.  I’ll tell you about the gelato later.