Friday, November 26, 2010

Italy: When In Rome . . . .

We spent our Eid holiday in the beautiful country of Italy.  Brett was invited to deliver a research paper in Venice at an architecture conference, so we thought we would see as much of the Italian world as possible in one week's time.  I know, impossible, right?  But it was worth a shot.  We landed at the DaVinci airport in Rome and entered the city by driving right under the impressive Aurelian Wall that at one time surrounded the whole city for protection.  The existing wall was built in 270 AD but there has been a wall of some kind around Rome since the 6th century BC.  Our driver mentioned that the twelve mile long wall had a state-of-the-art aqueduct system that carried water from the Tiber River all around the city.  It must have been quite impressive to live in a city with such a modern convenience for that time.  Our entry through the wall initiated a stroll (or should I say race?) back in time and we soon found ourselves confronted with the wonders of Rome's ancient magnificence.

Our driver pointed out the beautiful "vine" trees (pine trees) and these trees, with their iconic trimming, seemed to further our journey back through the ages.  

On a more current note, the smart cars are very prolific in Rome, and after seeing some of the impressive parking jobs, we knew why.  These two cars were actually miles apart compared to some of the sardine-like parked cars along the streets.

Have you ever seen a Mercedes min-van?  Neither had I until Mario picked us up at the airport and whisked us through the streets of Rome to our hotel.  It seemed appropriate for us to be flying through the crowded streets of Italy with someone named "Mario" at the wheel.  I asked him twice if his driving ever got compared to Mario Andretti's racing prowess.  I don't think his English was up to that kind of conversation, so he just nodded and smiled. 

Abbey loved the revolving door at our hotel:  the Radisson Blu es
We made the mistake of letting the university HR department make our travel arrangements and this hotel was supposed to be a modern delight.  Well, more about that later, but the lobby was pretty cool. 
Our first true Italian meal was heavenly.  I had spaghetti bolognese, Abbey had ravioli, and Brett had a seafood pasta dish complete with calamari, mussels, and clams.

Yes, your mouth is probably watering at this point.  So is mine just remembering!

Here is the preferred mode of transportation on the busy streets of Rome.  It scared me to death just watching the scooters weave in and out of the traffic jams.  This restaurant was a winner we tried later in the week, and the Fettucini Alfredo with bacon and snow peas I had was the best I have ever tasted. 
 Our first activity was a mile-long night walk across Rome.  We took a taxi to Camp de' Fiori (Field of Flowers) where the statue of Giordano Bruno, an intellectual heretic who was burned on the spot in 1600 overlooks a busy produce and flower market.  By the time we got there, only the flowers decorated the square.  It was beautiful and a great place to start our tastes of Rome.

After dinner there was a call for the delectable taste of Italian gelato and as you can see, choosing only two flavors was difficult. 

We averaged one gelato a day and Abbey had it twice one day!  On an especially exhausting night Brett went on a hunt for some good Chinese food (our hotel was in the heart of the Chinese shop section of town), but because his Chinese isn't up to par and the delicacies he beheld were unrecognizable, he brought gelato and pastries back to the hotel for our dinner enjoyment.  He felt like he had failed, but Abbey and I remember that as one of the best meals we had.  Only on vacation, right?

Our walk continued to Piazza Navona with the Four Rivers Fountain in the middle.  There were street musicians, artists (poor ones), and many outdoor diners tasting their overpriced pasta.  The fountain was created by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and it displays four river gods (representing the four continents that were know in 1650) supporting and Egyptian obelisk that once stood on the ancient Appian Way before Bernini had it moved here. The Nile, the Ganges, the Rio de la Plata, and the Danube all gush forth in this interesting water display. The details of every fountain, obelisk, and statue amazed me in Italy. There was so much to focus on, but we continued our walk, missing a lot of the small delights in our rush to Brett's longed-for Pantheon visit.
This is the face of a very happy guy.  The Pantheon is an architectural wonder and was built by Emperor Hadrian (A.D. 120).  The domed room inside inspired later famous domes including Michelangelo's St. Peter's and Brunelleschi's Duomo in Florence.  Even though Emperor Hadrian commissioned the building of the structure he is one of the few rulers who recognized the artistic genius of the builder and had M. Agrippa credited on the impressive entry.  Oh, Brett couldn't stop smiling. 

The Trevi Fountain was our next major stop and these very disappointing photos do not do Nicola Salvi's masterpiece justice.  Romans liked to show off how much water they were able to bring into the city with their aqueduct system so fountains were built in abundance.  This one was built in 1762 and it is glorious in person.

By this time we were too tired to continue on to the Piazza di Spagna with the popular Spanish Steps.  I think if we would have pushed Abbey down one more cobbled street that night she would have disowned us.  As it was, she was the most patient ten-year-old traveler ever and we usually ran out of energy before she did, even in the museums!  So we headed back to the hotel and called our first day in Rome a success.


Marinda said...

Oh my wow. You really go to some wonderful places. I seriously hope I make it there some day!

Juli Barros said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Juli Barros said...

Beautiful pictures! I want to go there someday.

Kristy said...

WOW! Can't wait to see the rest!

Amy said...

I love Brett's happy smile at the Pantheon! I'm so glad you guys got that experience. My brother serves his mission in Rome, and it always seemed such a world away. Brett's dinner looks right up Josh's alley! :)

Breeann said...

What an awesome experience! I am so jealous!