When we visited Rome 5 years ago, we thought we had done well and hit the high points - The Colosseum, The Forum, St Peter’s, The Trevi Fountain, The Vatican Museums, The Pantheon, Circo Maximus, numerous churches, the Bocca del Verita and of course, a day down the coast to see Pompeii (plus going out every evening to see the monuments by night as well as an opera concert in a church). From memory we spent 4 or 5 days here before continuing on to Florence and Venice. It’s only now that we realise how much of Rome, its art and history, that we didn’t see. (We’re also coming to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter how many days we spend roaming about Rome - it’s never-ending.)
The 4th of February was the first Sunday of the month and thus ‘Free Museum Day’ - woo hoo! We were on target for an early start and arrived at the train station at 7.30 am, despite frozen car windows and frost crystallising in the air around us. We validated our tickets, we checked the arrivals board and noted that our 7.45 am train was running 10 minutes late... no problem... then 20 minutes, 30... 40... eventually 80 minutes behind it finally chugged into the station and took us all of one stop up the line to Bracciano. Despite hugely informative (not!) announcements made in Italian, we just followed the hordes when every one jumped off and onto the train on the next platform. Funnily enough, that extra hour and 20 minutes, plus additional lateness along the way, put us behind the whole day - but still managed to see copious amounts of Rome for free!
Thankfully the day warmed up significantly and it was blue sky and sunshine for our big adventure. We started (as you do) with a coffee near St Peter’s - it’s €1 to go to the loo at the train station, so we always cough up an extra 40 cents or so and avail of a coffee and facilities before we start trekking. This time we enjoyed a walk along the banks of the River Tiber to the Palazzo Corsini - which contains 50% of the national gallery’s collection (we saw the other 50% at Palazzo Barberini last month). A stunning palazzo filled as expected with glorious art works and sculpture. From Trastevere we crossed Rome’s picturesque pedestrian bridge built in the 1470s - the Ponte Sisto. We proceeded as directly as is possible in Rome to the Galleria Spada where we encountered for the very first time, a queue albeit only half a dozen people. We knew this was quite a small gallery - only 4 rooms of the palazzo - however it seemed there were 100+ paintings in each room. The highlight of this stop however was a complete surprise. In the internal courtyard we found Borromini’s Perspective. Palazzo Spada itself was built in 1540 but it was in 1632 when Cardinal Spada bought it that he commissioned the architect Borromini to create the masterpiece of forced perspective optical illusion in the arcaded courtyard (pictured). The perspective contains diminishing rows of columns and a rising floor to create the visual illusion of a gallery 37 meters long (it is 8 meters) with a lifesize sculpture at the end - however the sculpture is actually only 60 cm high. Funnily enough the illusion is more apparent in the photos we took on the day - standing in front of it I wasn’t convinced at all that it was a massively long corridor with a huge statue at the end in the distance - it just looked like multiple columns, each shorter than the last, with a little fellow down the end. The joys of optical illusions it seems!
From Spada we hoofed it in the general direction of Palazzo Venezia - but didn’t realise how much we’d see along the way, Rome however is like that. We found ourselves in the vicinity of Torre Argentina. Despite the name, nothing to do with Argentina. In 1503 the Papal Master of Ceremonies built a palace nearby. He was known as "Argentinus" (as he was from Strasbourg and Strasbourg’s Latin name was Argentoratum). Mind you, perhaps they should have rechristened the area ‘Catus Centralus’. There have been cats in Rome since ‘forever’ and quite often in parks and alleys you’ll see plates of food put out by locals for the local felines. One of the most organised and well respected shelters exists within the ruins of the Argentine Tower area where apparently there was was a temple to cats (amongst several others - it is one of the oldest temple areas in Rome dating back to 400-300 BC). They spay/neuter, immunise etc and re-home many cats - though some are simply full time residents of the neighbourhood (Italy is a no-kill country so the ‘fixing’ of strays is vital). The other claim to fame of this area is it contains ruins of Pompey’s Theatre where Julius Caesar was assassinated - they even know the actual spot. Would have been nice to know that as we were cruising around - but we were on a mission. After cat-watching we nipped into the Crypta Balbi ruins - another of ancient Rome’s theatres - not a huge amount to see, but part of ‘free day’ and we were walking past.
Finally at Palazzo Venezia we spent easily more than an hour staring in wonderment at the huge ceremonial rooms and all the incredible furnishings and art which had been donated to the Italian state by a wealthy American couple who were in the diplomatic corps. In the largest of the ceremonial rooms Mozart actually performed in 1770 when he was only 14 years old. We even saw a stunning room with the heavens painted on the ceiling - turns out that was Mussolini’s bedroom after he converted the Palazzo to the headquarters of the Fascist government in the 1920s. Funnily enough, the highlight of the day was another surprise inclusion in ‘free day’ as part of the Palazzo Venezia ticket. We continued over the piazza to the massive monument to Vittorio Emanuele II - The Altar to the Fatherland, aka Il Vittoriano or, most appropriately, ‘The Wedding Cake Building’. The views from the public terraces were great, but we headed onwards and upwards to the Acensori Panoramico - Rome’s Great Glass Elevator. After a short line up we were whizzed to the top of the monument and blown away by Rome’s treasures laid out like a carpet before us. Obviously far too many photos were then taken of the forum and Colosseum. We eventually came back to earth and wandered along the pedestrian to the metro and the start the long trek home (darn those 2 hour gaps in Sunday trains). An amazing day despite the delayed start, though we couldn’t have taken another step if our lives depended on it.
Aside from trundling into the city, life has been quiet on the home front. Couple of minor disasters... one Monday our fave cafe/hang out spot was closed for no apparent reason. Had to try two other cafes - neither had wifi though otherwise it was good to try something new (we suppose). Other disaster was having pump issues - which when you rely on well water is a nuisance indeed. Thankfully it only took 2-3 days to get sorted out and the waters flowed once more. Separately, all final plans are in place for our forthcoming ‘3B Tour’ of the non-Schengen zone countries - Bulgaria, Belgrade and Bucharest, here we come. We are now regulars at our local Thursday market and the vege-gents smile when they see us coming as they know we buy everything from them and can be relied on for around €15 of sales - you know you’re a regular when you get a handful of goodies into the bag at the end - couple of carrots or onions, some parsley etc. All good stuff. Latest bargains from the market (aside from veges) - a snazzy pair of jeans for James and a super light weight cotton shirt that will come in handy on the Costa del Sol in June - though as a major cold snap threatens Europe, it definitely wont be seeing the light of day until then.