Sunday, January 31, 2010

Travel to Rome: The Day After Christmas

After seeing the Pantheon we walked behind it and came to the Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva (Church of Saint Mary above Minerva), the only Gothic church in Rome. The reason for the name has to do with the fact that it was built directly on (sopra means "above" in Italian) the foundations of the temple to Minerva, the goddess of wisdom.

We didn't go in, of course, now that we are home, every time I write, we didn't go in, I wish we had! But, anyways, we didn't. Outside is a statue of a cute baby elephant carrying an obelisk on his back. It represents Pope Alexander VII's reign and the idea that strength should support wisdom.

The round building in the background is the back of the Pantheon.

Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva

There was a picture of this large foot and hand in our guide book that I wanted to see. But the guide book only had a picture no information on it! I was determined to find it because I had seen it in other pictures and it looked interesting. Bless Frankie's heart he put up with me asking and dragging him all over Rome looking for it. I asked several people and no one knew where it was or we got different answers to where it was. One lady said there was a foot on a road called Via del Piè di Marmo. You will never guess what that means..."street of the foot of marble" of all things! So with hopes of this being what we were looking for we walked over to it.

Some how we couldn't find so we stopped in a sandwich stopped and asked. They were very friendly and told us exactly where it was. Somehow we walked right past it, literally! It was not actually on Via del Piè di Marmo, but down a side street just around the corner. It was not what we were looking for, but a hidden gem of Rome, that most probably don't see.

Pie di Marmo

We walked back past the sandwich shop to thank the guy and he said he wanted to tell me a secret about the foot. He basically said that it use to be on Via del Piè di Marmo, hence the name, in the Piazza del Collegio Romano, which in ancient times was the sight of a temple. But the city moved it because it was in the way of funeral processions that had to cross the nearby street of Corso Vittorio Emanuele II. With Rome being Rome, no one bothered to update the change to show where it was.

It was great to learn this nugget of info from the locals! Continuing on our quest for the big foot we walked on. It was amazing what you can find when just walking around looking for something else. We saw on the map that we were close to the Circo Massimo (Circus Maximus).

circus maximus

It wasn't much to look at now, but in its time it was the place of the first chariot races and could hold over 300,000 people which is 2 times larger than the largest stadium in the world can hold! The first time bleachers were built they were wooden, but during its high point they were covered with marble stone. Now people use it as a walking track or a place to hang out in the sunshine.

Close by the Circus Maximus is the Basilica of Saint Mary in Cosmedin. In the portico of the church is the Bocca della Verità (the Mouth of Truth). Ever since I saw the movie "Roman Holiday" I have wanted to see this piece of Roman history. I was happy to get the chance.

Bocca della Verita

The statue is thought to be part of a fountain from the 1st century and was move to the church in the 17th century. The name comes from the legend that says if a person sticks their hand in the mouth and they are a liar the mouth will bite that person's hand off.

I didn't stick my hand in it because it was raining (even with umbrellas it was a pain), there was a line to wait to stick my hand in the mouth, and we were still on a mission to find that big foot! I was able to get a picture of it from the side in between other people sticking their hands in, so I was happy enough with that.

We did listen to an audio podcast from ItalyGuides.it that told an interesting story about the mouth. Here is a transcript:

"It is said that the rich wife of a Roman noble was accused of adultery. The woman denied the accusations, but her husband wanted to put her to the test by making her put her hand inside the stone mouth. Knowing perfectly well that she was lying, the woman used a very clever strategy. In front of a group of curious bystanders who had gathered around the Mouth of Truth, the man who was actually her lover embraced her and kissed her. She pretended that she didn't know him and accused him of being a madman and the crowd chased him away.

When she put her hand into the mouth, the woman declared that she had never kissed any other man apart from her husband and the poor madman who had just kissed her. In this way she was certain that she hadn't lied and her hand was saved. The betrayed husband saved her honour, but the Mouth of Truth lost its credibility and it is said that since that day it no longer carried out its function as a right and unappeasable judge."

Before I end this blog, I have a story to tell you that really shamed Frankie and me (and it wasn't anything we did). We were in a souvenir shop when some other people came in. They were speaking English and talking rather loudly to each other. One lady picked up a red shirt that said Ciao-Ciao in white on it in a script that looked like the Coca-Cola script. She asked the cashier if the shirt said Coca-Cola in Italian. Ok, fine, maybe she didn't know the word ciao, but had they not gone into any restaurants or bars their entire trip?? All they sell is Coca-Cola for the most part for soft drinks and it looks just like it does here.

They continued to be loud asking...ok I will say it....stupid questions...yes there are such things! We noticed a twangy Texas accent, so we asked where they were from. They were from none other than San Antonio and knew the little town we are from! We paid for our purchases and quietly walked out the door trying to not look and sound like tourist who are really acting like tourist.

After feeling the slight shame of being Americans in a foreign country, we got on the right track to find the big foot thanks to a different shop owner who looked it up in one of her guide books, but that will be a new blog.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Travel to Rome: Pantheon

The day after Christmas we used up the last of our 48 hour hop on-hop off bus tour. The hop on-hop off was good and bad. Since we didn't really know where or how to get to major attractions it was nice that this bus just dropped you off near them. If we had planned a little better, public transportation would have worked just as well and for a fraction of the price we could have bought bus tickets that were good for a whole week of unlimited rides as opposed to just 48 hours. Live and learn.

We decided to get off near the Pantheon (not to be confused with the Parthenon in Greece nor the one in Nashville, Tennessee, which by the way I have been to.) and see the sites in that area for the day, then catch either the hotel shuttle or public bus to get back to the hotel.

Before going in the Pantheon a stroll around the Piazza della Rotonda was needed, the square in front of the Pantheon. There is always something to see. The fountain is really something to behold.

fountain at pantheon

Fountain in front of Pantheon

Just beyond the fountain and the Pantheon stands an apartment building. There is no telling what the rent is on an apartment next to the Pantheon or anywhere in central Rome for that matter!

apartments near Pantheon

Then we focused our attention on the Pantheon itself. When a building is almost 2000 years old it is bound to have some interesting history. The Pantheon definitely fits that. The original structure was build in 25 BC by Marcus Agrippa to celebrate the victory over Antony and Cleopatra. This temple burned down in 80 AD. The one that stands today was rebuilt in 125 AD. It is one of the most well preserved ancient buildings in all of Rome.

Pantheon means every god in Greek and the original purpose of the building was for pagan worship. Then Christianity came to Rome and pagan worship was banned in the 4th century. The building was reopened as a church in early 7th century and dedicated to the Virgin Mary and all the martyred saints.

Pantheon

The shape of the church is a perfect sphere sitting in a cylinder. All the math that was is involved in the structure is amazing! I can feel a possible project for my students coming on. Besides the shape the other amazing fact about it is that the only source of natural light comes from the oculus, the opening in the dome. The oculus is 27 feet in diameter! Twenty-seven feet!

When we were there it was cloudy and rainy outside. The rain just fell in but there was drainage because the floor was dry everywhere except right under the oculus. It is too bad the sun wasn't shining because other pictures I have seen of the oculus with the sun shining in are amazing! Here is my cloudy day version.

inside pantheon

Inside the Pantheon are the tombs of the first king of the unified Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II and his successor Umberto I. Then there was the cool tomb: the tomb of Raffaello Sanzi da Urbino, or simply, Raphael, the Italian Renaissance painter and architect. One of his most famous works of art is The School of Athens a mural that is found in the Vatican Museums.

Rafaels tomb


The inscription on the tomb reads ILLE HIC EST RAPHAEL TIMUIT QUO SOSPITE VINCI / RERUM MAGNA PARENS ET MORIENTE MORI, meaning "Here lies Raphael, by whom the mother of all things (Nature) feared to be overcome while he was living, and while he was dying, herself to die."

The Pantheon has inspired many architects. We can even see the results right here in the good ole US of A. Our US Capital, Monticello in Virginia, and the Jefferson memorial are all modeled after the Pantheon. Tucking away memories and mental images we continued on our exploration of Rome, but that my friends, will have to be another blog!


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Travel to Rome: (Piazza di Spagna) Spanish Steps

There were so many sites that we saw in one day that it is impossible to write a blog about just one day of sight-seeing. It would be very long! So I shared with you our Christmas meal and the pictures of the Colosseum from that day, but now I want to show you another site from the day.

In our wandering around on Christmas day we found the Spanish Steps (Piazza di Spagna). I didn't know what to expect, but I really wasn't very impressed. They were only named the Spanish Steps because at one time a Spanish Ambassador use to live in the Trinità dei Monti which is the church that stands above the steps. I think if we had seen them in the Spring when they are full of flowers it would have been better, but sort of plain in the winter.

spanish steps

In front of the steps is a fountain called Fontana della Barcaccia (Fountain of the Old Boat). The story behind it goes like this: After the waters receded from the flood of the Tiber River in 1598 there was a fishing boat found in this very spot so a statue was created in remembrance. Whether that is true or not, I don't know but the fountain is in the shape of a sinking ship.

Fountain at Spanish steps

In January 2008 a man released half a million plastic balls like the ones found in children's ball pits down the Spanish steps and into the fountain. Here is a link to the story, pictures and video. It is really quite spectacular!

While we were in the piazza we saw a man roasting chestnuts (marrone) and selling them. This was something neither of us had ever had so we bought some for 5 Euros. I thought it was a little high, but as they say, when in Rome.... We both tried them and came to conclusion that we didn't like them! I don't know if they were roasted to long or if it was just the type of nut. They were really really dry, but the idea of them was a neat experience.

Roasted Marrone

Christmas was a great day full of sight-seeing and food. We couldn't have asked for a better one.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Travel to Rome: (Colosseo) Colosseum

On Christmas day we rode the hop on-hop off bus. We got off at a random stop to find something to eat, got back on and later got off again to get coffee and gelato. In between eating and drinking we went to the Colosseum.

It is a beautiful amphitheater. It is hard to believe that is almost 2,000 years old. In its prime it could hold over 50,000 people. It was used for chariot races, animal hunts, gladiator fights, and even flooded a few times to have sea battles reenactments!

We didn't pay to go in, but I was able to get a picture of the inside.

Coliseum inside

Before I post the pictures of the Colosseum I want to show you the Arch of Constantine which is beside the Colosseum. According to scared-destination.com:

"The Arch of Constantine was erected to commemorate Constantine's victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 AD. This event is a highly important one for Christian history.

According to contemporary historians, the night before the battle Constantine had a vision. He saw the symbol of chi-rho (the first letters of "Christ" in Greek) - or the cross in some accounts - in the sky with the words, "By this sign, conquer."

Facing an army larger than his own, Constantine was happy to try anything. He had his soldiers carry the Christian symbol into battle, and he was victorious. So Constantine adopted Christianity for himself and declared the religion officially tolerated throughout the Roman Empire.

With Constantine's conversion, Christian persecution ended and the development of Christendom began. Thus, the event celebrated by the Arch of Constantine was a major turning point in the history of the western world."

Arch of Constatine

Then we have the "protectors" of the Colosseum. They protect it by getting you to take picture with them for money.

Gladiator at Coliseum

I now leave you with pictures of the Colosseum during the day and at night. Enjoy!


Coliseum

Coliseum (2)

Coliseum5

Coliseum4

Coliseum3

Coliseum2

coliseum at night2

Coliseum at night (2)

The last on is my favorite!

Travel to Rome: Coffe And Other Beverages

If you go to Italy, you have to drink coffee while there. I think that is a law or something. They say that about drinking wine too, and I did try a sample and didn't like it. I tried a sample (read that small swallow) of limoncello at a store and thought I had drank cough syrup. It was awful! I also tried some chocolate liquor (again a swallow) and nearly spewed it out. All my years of never drinking were not a waste. Good to know!

Now back to the Christian's drug of choice, caffine aka coffee!

When we would go into a place that sold coffee, called bars, we ordered from the cashier first and then took our receipt to the person behind the bar. That is just they way they do things in Italy. Bars also serve alcohol, food, pastries, and gelato (ice cream) all depending on how big of a bar it is. As in many bars in Rome, if you sit down to drink your coffee or eat your snack then you are changed a service fee which is equivalent to the tip. It is usually 1 or 2 Euros per person. We stood at the bar to drink our coffees most times.

We tried four different types of caffè (coffee) while in Rome. The best one of the whole trip was a caffè latte from Antico Caffè San Pietro. We went to several different coffee bars but found ourselves at Antico Caffè San Pietro several times since it is near the Vatican and that was a drop off point for the hotel shuttle. To me the caffè latte tasted just like coffee ice cream, which I LOVE, but hot. It had the perfect mix of espresso, milk, and sugar. This picture is not from Antico, but they all pretty much looked the same just different cups.

Caffe Latte

Caffè latte was pretty much the only thing Frankie ordered. He did try an espresso once, but my camera was dead, so no picture. It was too strong for both of us, but we did try it. The cup was tiny, like from a child's play set maybe. Typically a cup of espresso cost around one Euro and a caffè latte or cappuccino around two Euros. If a place is trying to charge more than that, try another place! We passed one place that was charging FOUR Euros for an espresso! Wow! This place wasn't a Starbucks either....there are no Starbucks in Rome or Italy for that matter!

Another coffee we tried was caffè lungo, which is a setting on the actual espresso maker. It allows more water to flow past the coffee grounds and into a slightly bigger cup. It is not a strong as an espresso, still strong though. It, like the espresso, is not served with milk only sugar. It is not to be sipped but drank quickly in 3 or 4 swallows.

One time I ordered it, I said, "Caffè lungo, per favore."
The barista said, "Caffè americano?"
I repeated, "Caffè lungo."
One more time she asked, "Caffè americano?"
I said with a smile, "No, caffè lungo." She returned the smile....I think she was impressed!

Caffe Lungo

The last type of Italian coffee we tried was the caffè americano. It is espresso at regular strength with water added after brewed. It is served with milk and, as with all coffees, sugar. It comes in a larger cup than even the caffè lungo. Caffè americano was what I had been ordering most of the time. We were at one bar and the cashier spoke English. She suggested that I try a caffè lungo because it had a better flavor. I took her suggestion and after that time ordered the caffè lungo a few more times. Most of the time I ordered a caffè americano though because it came with milk. I don't remember the coffee being bitter without the milk, but it still helps cut the strength and I liked the taste better. I just loved the little pitcher of milk and every cup of coffee we ordered came on a small serving plate.

Caffe Americano

Just in case you found yourself out and about but not near a bar....hard to do...but just in case you can always turn to the coffee vending machines. These don't just give you coffee like you can find here in hospitals. There are options like, espresso, cappuccino, caffè latte, machiato, caffè lungo and more. All the choices and on top of that it serves one of the best brand of coffee Lavazza!

coffee vending machine

Last photo about coffee. I just loved this store window!

Espresso machines

Another beverage that can not be missed, especially in the winter is hot chocolate. We had it one time and we chose the orange cinnamon hot chocolate. It was different from any other hot chocolate I have ever had. The taste was good, but it wasn't as sweet as I have had and it was much thicker.

Hot chocolate

Look, it doesn't even go up on the spoon it is so thick!

Hot chocolate

Two more beverages to go. Now for water. They serve bottled water and not because the water in Italy is bad. It is just what they do but even the government is trying to convince the Italians to drink more tap water. Anytime we ordered water they would ask us if we wanted it with gas or natural. Teehee...they asked if we wanted gassy water! I try to avoid all things gassy! I don't think we got the same brand of natural water twice though.

The last beverage we had was of course sodas. Diet Coke is called Coke Light, but then they also had Coke Zero. I still don't know the difference between them here! The most common options were Coca-Cola, Sprite, Orange Fanta, and Coke Light. Occasionally we did see Pepsi and at the grocery store we also found a store brand of cola. We only saw one or two soda fountains and they were at McDonald's and another fast food type of place. We had to buy soda in cans most of the time. The cans we bought at restaurants and bars had aluminum covers and once that was removed it was a pop top like we have here.

covered coke can

They also had sizes other than the 12 oz. we have here. Here is an example of a half liter can of Coca-Cola. This can and other cans were tall and skinny. It was neat to see the differences in a product that is so well know here.

Half Liter Coca-Cola

So after eating and drinking our way across Rome we decided to enjoy more sites! Coming up next the Coliseum.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Travel to Rome: The Food

This was what most people asked, "What did you eat while you were there?"

Let me tell you, we ate some really good food! There was only one exception and I will get to that in a little bit.

First and most important the cheese! This was a road stand cheese market. I was going to ask for a taste but the seller was talking to a lady and I couldn't think of the words for taste, try, or sample so we moved on. But that is okay because just seeing it was spectacular.

formaggio sold on street

Our very first meal in Italy was at a corner restaurant near the Vatican for tourist. I didn't want to go to a place like that but we were hungry and didn't know where anything else was. This was after the friendly Italian lady walked us to the Vatican and all but held our hand, so we caved. We both ordered a margherita pizza. It wasn't too bad, but it was missing the basil ingredient. I was just imaging what a real one would taste like at a better restaurant!

margherita pizza

Later that same day we went to the McDonald's near the hotel. It had the typical Big Mac's and fries you can find here, but then it had other food items unfortunately not available in America. They had croquettes with spinach and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, fried Brie cheese, like our fired mozzarella sticks, and several different types of cakes. It was wonderful. We had eaten supper fairly recently when we went there so I was not hungry. I really wish we had gone back at some point, every time we walked towards it to go it was so crowded that we went next door to a sandwich shop called Pans. Had we gone I would have gotten some of the croquettes! I did get a McFlurry of all things. I know, I know in the land of gelato...I get it from McDonald's! I did get some real gelato later though. Frankie got chocolate cake at McDonald's. The cake and ice cream both were delicious!

Rome McDonalds

For one of our lunches we were able to have calzone. These particular ones were ham and mozzarella. Yum!

ham and cheese calzone

We had all kinds of panini (sandwiches) from all different kinds of restaurants!

sandwich shop

Here is a close up of the sandwiches. These were the kinds that you showed them how much you wanted and they would cut it, weight it (you paid by the kilogram), warm it, and hand you the delicious goodness.

sandwiches in shop window

Here is one more sandwich loaded with mozzarella, tomatoes (yes that is a green tomato!), and prosciutto cotto.

mozzarella tomato and cotto panino

Our Christmas meal was probably the best meal of the entire trip. We were on the hop on-hop off bus and just got off at a random stop to find something to eat. Most of the restaurants in central Rome have their menus posted outside so we found one that wasn’t too expensive and went in. They had about 3 or 4 different menus in different languages; we of course got the English one. That is a sign that it is a tourist restaurant, but it wasn't like that first one we went to on the first day. I think the tourist restaurants are hard to get away from unless you know where to look and you are looking outside of the central part of Rome.

The lady that took our order didn't speak much English so that made it feel more Italian than anything and gave me a feeling the food we were about to eat would be outstanding. I wasn't wrong. It is like when you go to a Mexican restaurant and the waiter/waitress doesn't speak English and you are in America. You know that Mexican food has to be good!

I finally ordered my pasta! Not being sure of portion size since they do first plate, second plate, sides, etc I ordered some roasted potatoes and Frankie ordered a single serve pizza to eat after the pasta. They brought out some bread for the table and freshly grated Parmesan.

Christmas meal bread and parmesan

The pasta came and WOW! It was a generous portion and it was wonderful! I ordered linguine with a basil, pine nut, Parmesan sauce and Frankie ordered a traditional tomato sauce. The linguine was just slightly thicker than what I normally have and the sauce was wonderful. Frankie and I ate half of our own and then switched. His was great too! And you can’t beat the freshly shaven Parmesan!

Christmas meal pasta

I was full from the pasta and had to cancel the order of potatoes. Frankie was going to cancel the pizza but it was too late because it was already made. I have to say it was one of the best pizzas we have ever had. It was a simple tomato sauce with garlic, basil, and olive oil. There was no cheese but it didn’t need any. The crust was very thin which is typical Roman style. Naples is where the thick crust comes from.

Christmas meal pizza

Through out the trip we had more pasta. Including in order of pictures below ravioli, penne formaggio (we would probably call this one Alfredo sauce), and gnocchi (not technically pasta, but this is a good place to put it since it is served as a first course like pasta).

ravioli

penne formaggio

gnocchi

We had more pizza. Frankie ordered the house pizza at a restaurant. He had no idea what would be on it and it turned out perfectly delicious with mozzarella, tomatoes, olives, garlic, and arugula.

house pizza

Another place, like the sandwich place, served pizza by the kilogram.

Pizza by the kilo

It was in this shop that I had the only food of the entire trip that I did not like. In the picture below the top most pizza is cheese and the middle section is potato and rosemary, which was actually quite tasty. Then in the bottom of the picture the pizza with the meat, that was the part I didn't like. Just for your information that size of a section cost 3 Euros, which at the time converts to $4.40.

Let me tell you about the meat. I didn't know what it was and didn't look all that closely at it. I should have, but I was on an adventure! LOL! If you look closely at it, or if you click on it and look at the full view on Flickr, you can see that the meat is hot dog! Yes, hot dog! Now it wasn't the worst thing in the world to eat, but a hot dog in Italy is still a hot dog. After I ate about half of it, I let Frankie have the rest. In Italian I asked the man behind the counter before we left what the meat was. He paused and in English answered chicken. CHICKEN?! He then corrected himself and said hot dog. I know I get them mixed up too sometimes.

cheese, potato, and hot dog and potato pizza

Oh, I forgot to mention Christmas dessert. Let's move away from things I didn't like to things I LOVED! I finally got my gelato! I chose two flavors from a selection of about 20. I got caffè (coffee) and stracciatella, which is vanilla with chocolate chips. Bellissimo!

gelato - caffe e stracciatella

Speaking of desserts, here is one we had at sometime in some place that I cannot remember. Frankie didn't even know what it was called, he just pointed and nodded. I almost forgot to take a picture before this one was gone!

dessert

To finish off any meal a good cup of coffee and/or dessert can't be beat! Now, when you can get those two things in one, you know you have hit upon a good thing. May I introduce a good thing to you. Pocket Coffee: Chocolate filled with real liquid espresso!

candy from Italy

Have I made you hungry yet? Buon appetito!