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Mama in Roma

(and also Assisi)

Shortly after I regained my composure following Rome’s birthday week, it was time to pick Momma up from the airport! She arrived early in the morning and although I was exhausted, it was time to celebrate. My mom planned the timing of her visit carefully so that we could spend Mother’s Day together for the first time in five years. Yes, I know. I’m a horrible daughter. But what am I supposed to do when I live in another state and it’s not the kind of holiday you get days off for?

Anyway, Momma and I spent some quality time together in the city, but also in bed watching the Mentalist, a TV show to which she introduced me. Our first venture into the city took us to the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain, you know, my usual impress-people walk around the neighborhood. The next day we stopped for a little gelato (of course) on our way to Castel Sant’Angelo, a favorite monument of mine. It’s a place that I keep returning to, so look for it to pop up in future (and past) posts.

Momma double-fisting gelato at Castel Sant'Angelo

Momma and I decided to spend that weekend in Assisi, a hill-top town in Umbria. However, we nearly missed the train because May 1st is Labor Day in Italy and the busses weren’t running. So, after our short jog to the short tracks to catch our train, my mom and I were panting and quickly realizing just how out of shape we were. Maybe something should be done about this… Jane Fonda? Jazzercise? More on that later. So, we arrived in Assisi a few hours later only and hopped the bus to Piazza Matteotti. Word to the wise: Do NOT take the bus to San Francesco, you’ll have to walk uphill to see the rest of the town. We started at the top, Piazza Matteotti, and walked downhill while sight-seeing since we are so out of shape.

At the top we met a cute, little old man walking his dog who gave us some tips on touring the city. The first stop was the Roman amphitheater where I found out that my camera battery was dead. So, here is one of the only three photos from the day. At least it’s a cute one.

Momma and me at the Roman Amphitheater in Assisi

After the sting of a dead camera battery wore off, my mom and I trotted about the city admiring hues of pink and yellow limestone and spectacular views of the valley. Actually, we did pick up some disposable cameras, which were kind of fun to use. Not immediately knowing how your photo turned out is kind of a novelty. Dad took them in to be developed, so we’ll see how they look soon. We might be pleasantly surprised!

After visiting San Francesco, the church built in St. Francis’ honor, we tried to go to the restaurant recommended by my old friend, Rick Steves, but apparently some other tourists had heard about it, too. So, we ended up at a trattoria down the street dining on a terrace overlooking the entire Umbrian valley. The region of Umbria is known as the “green heart” of Italy and I can certainly understand why.

After lunch we bought tickets to see the chapel painted by Giotto in San Francesco and we were two of only four people on this tour. All the tourists were still eating at Rick Steves’ restaurant. The chapel is in the process of being restored, so there are three flights of scaffolding set up that you can visit with an entrance ticket, a hard hat and a god-awful audio guide. It was so amazing nearly having the chapel all to ourselves and being able to walk right up next to 700-year-old frescos adorning the 1st, 2nd and 3rd “floors”. But again, no camera. I think this calls for another trip to Assisi real soon…

Back in Rome, my mom and I used Sunday to rest before hitting the cobblestone streets again. Later in the week we took a huge trek around the city that took us through the Jewish ghetto. (Ghetto is Italian is a little different than the English version of the word. See here for info.) We checked out the Portico d’Ottavia, the theater of Marcellus where Sophia Loren used to live and ended up at La Bocca della Verità. In case you don’t know what this is, look at the very end of this clip from the movie Roman Holiday.

Legend has it that this sculpture will bite off the hand of anyone who does not tell the truth. Scary! My mom and I made it out unscathed.

Our recreation of Roman Holiday

Can you believe that I have lived in Rome for a year and have never seen this? Situation remedied.

After our encounter with the mouth of truth, Momma and I wandered over to the Forum and the Capitoline Museums. We just did a quick run though because it was getting late and we were exhausted (Remember, out of shape!) from our walk already.

Momma and I at the Forum

The next night we took a walk in the opposite direction out to the Spanish Steps. If you have ever seen a photo of Piazza di Spagna, the stairs probably had pots of beautiful pink flowers on them. I have a feeling that many tourists are disappointed when they find out that those flowers aren’t always there. BUT the azaleas are there for a couple weeks every spring and it happened to coincide with my mom’s visit. So, we took a few glamour shots and then laughed at ourselves. Check the facebook album for those.

Before long, it was time for our weekend trip to Vienna (featured in the next post) and then time to say goodbye. See you in a few months, Momma!

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You don’t look a day over 2,600.

Just after Paige left, Rome celebrated its 2763rd birthday. What better excuse to have a festa?

April 21, 2010 is regarded as the anniversary of Rome’s legendary founding by Romulus, remembered as the pudgy baby suckling a she-wolf’s teat, victorious over his poor brother Remus. Here’s a teaser photo of the famous she-wolf sculpture projected in Piazza del Popolo.

Can you see baby Romulus and Remus suckling?

So, what does Rome do to celebrate its birthday, you ask? I think a better question would be what doesn’t Rome do. There were over thirty events for the birthday week including (but not limited to) tours at archeological sites, marching bands and choir performances, seminars, conferences, exhibition openings at museums all over Rome, free entrance to said museums and archeological sites and a grand finale that recalled the history of the city with lights, sound and fireworks. But more on that later.

The event that kicked it all off was a parade that Ryan and I barely made it to in time. We stood outside the Vittorio Emanuele II monument and watched groups of people dressed up in ancient costumes. There were groups recreating famous legions, groups representing different areas of Ancient Rome, different religious sects (think Vestal Virgins) and even captive barbarians! I think I saw a Dacian or two being mistreated. Yay! (For those of you who don’t already know, I am researching a sculpture that supposedly features a Dacian.)

Over the next few days I took advantage of free admission to museums during what is called Settimana della Cultura or Culture Week. One of my favorites was Palazzo Altemps. I could not believe that I had never been here before. I was able to get quite a bit of research done looking at ancient sculptures restored by Ippolito Buzzi (also written as Buzio), but the highlight was definitely seeing the sculpture known as the Suicidal Gaul. By now everyone knows I love barbarians. The sculpture is absolutely gorgeous and I’ve written about it on a few different occasions. This time I scrutinized the work in terms of its restoration. Hmm, that barbarian seems to wield a Roman sword… How odd.

Suicidal Gaul at Palazzo Altemps

Ryan and I also took advantage of free admission at the Palatine hill, a place I shamefully haven’t visited since 2007. We took a picnic lunch that we ate near the Palatine museum, from which Ryan fed a few pigeons before we headed on our merry way about the hill top. We traveled down through the forum before decided that although our ticket included admission to the Colosseum, we were just too exhausted to carry on. We did have fun walking amongst the ruins though. It’s a shame that it costs money to go to the forum. It used to be open to the public back in 2007. Drat.

Me in the forum next to the Temple of Deified Antoninus Pius and Faustina

Anyway, the next big birthday week event was ROMAGNIFICAT, which is a play on the Italian words for Rome and magnificent. Shayna and I trekked it out to Piazza del Popolo with the rest of the Romans to see the light and sound show that was to chronicle Rome’s history. It was cheesy, but also very cool. They projected images of the Sistine ceiling and last judgement on random buildings in the piazza, little snip-its of famous Italian films were shown, there was an interpretive dance and reenactment of Rome’s founding (think she-wolf and Remus getting clobbered). The finale consisted of fireworks in Italian colors and the lighting of the olympic torch; Rome has been nominated to host the 2020 olympics. So, all together something magnificent indeed. Here’s a look:

Michelangelo's Last Judgement projected in Piazza del Popolo

Other things I got up to in late April were meeting the director Francesca Archibugi, teaching the Italian studies students how to make Spaghetti alla Carbonara (see recipe below) and having drinks with Mia and friends. It was certainly a great month. 🙂

Spaghetti alla Carbonara Recipe

  • 1 pound dry spaghetti
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 ounces pancetta (You americani can also use cut up strips of bacon if you can’t find the cubed pancetta version.)
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • Half a small onion, minced
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup grated parmesan
  • pepper
  • Optional table spoon of dry white wine
  • Optional bits of parsley for garnish

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and add spaghetti noodles.

While the noodles are cooking, heat the olive oil in a pan. Add the pancetta (or bacon) and saute for about 3 minutes on medium heat. Remove the pancetta, leaving that lovely oil/fat mix in the pan.  Toss the garlic and onion into the fat and saute for less than 1 minute to soften. Turn the heat down to low and add the pancetta back in as soon as the noodles are done and strained.

Add the hot, drained spaghetti to the pan and toss for 2 minutes to coat the strands in the yummy oil/fat/garlic/onion mix. Beat the eggs and Parmesan together in a mixing bowl, stirring well to prevent lumps. Some Italians also add a tablespoon of dry white wine to the egg mix. I recommend it! Make sure you the heat is low, low, low before you move to the next step.

Pour the egg/cheese mix on top of the pasta, whisking quickly so that the mix covers all of the noodles. You want the eggs to thicken, but not scramble. Tricky, tricky. You can take the pan off the heat entirely if you want as long as your noodles are hot enough to partially cook the eggs. You can also thin out the sauce with a bit of reserved pasta water, but it won’t fix the scramble issue. So, don’t let it scramble!

Season the carbonara with salt and pepper and parsley, if you like. Then EAT!

What your pasta will hopefully look like.

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Social Experiments

So, after we got back from Paris we had very little time to prepare for Halloween. My coworkers also told me that it’s not really celebrated here in Italy. However, Leish and I went on our evening passagiata (walk) and saw a ton of Italian kids trick-or-treating. They were running in and out of pubs, bars, restaurants, anything still open at 8:00pm with bags of candy in tow. Yay for Americanization! So, then Leisha and I went home and tried to put together costumes from what we already had lying around. I teased my hair, put on a sweater vest and wore my reading glasses with tape in the middle. Instant nerd. Leish put on a black dress, threw some floss in her hair and drew a web on her face with eyeliner. Instant spider lady. After our glorious costumes we complete, we headed over to Barnum Cafe to meet some of Leisha’s friends. We had other plans, but we ended up spending the whole evening with a group of people we met there. So fun!

Halloween

Spiderella and nerd on Halloween

I spent the next couple days resting and preparing for Dan and Oana’s arrival. Dan and I went to elementary, middle and high school together. Right now he has an internship in Düsseldorf, Germany and his girlfriend Oana is teaching English in Nice, France. They arrived on Tuesday night and when I picked them up from the train station, we began our mission for dinner which took us to 3+ restaurants. I still don’t know why things were closed that night. We had a lovely dinner in Trastevere. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to sightseeing with them during the week, but we spent the evenings going on walks that probably passed by the Pantheon and involved gelato in some way.

forum 1

Dan and Oana looking at the Forum from the Capitoline

Saturday was the first beautiful, warm, rain-free day of their visit and we went to the Capitoline Museums together, which is the first time I’ve been during my second stay in Rome. I’ve decided that I love that museum. It has two of my favorite sculptures: The Dying Gaul and Commodus as Hercules. The Commodus sculpture was especially fun to see because we drug the mattress into the conference room the night before and watched Gladiator on the big screen. It was perhaps too big. Another great thing about the Capitoline Museums is the wonderful view of the forum.

forum 2

View of the Forum from the Capitoline Museums

After the museums we made the trek to the Spanish Steps where they had constructed a fake Berlin wall in honor of the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the wall. I wonder if they knocked it down, too. We didn’t stay long enough to figure it out. Exhaustion.

Berlin in Rome

BERLYN / Spanish Steps

Our evening was a wonderful social experiment. After our huge Chinese dinner, we decided to go out to Anima, a dance club, so that I could demonstrate how persistent Italian guys can be. Dan, Oana and I had some good laughs that night. Unfortunately for them, they had to wake up just a few hours after getting to sleep to catch their flights back to Düsseldorf and Nice respectively.

On Sunday evening I met up with a German photographer named Chris and unfortunately did not practice German. Maybe next time! We went out for beers at a hole-in-the-wall bar and then took a passagiata before dinner. Mmmm saltimbocca.

Last night was Leisha’s birthday, but she is just getting over the illness from hell, so we took it easy. We went out to dinner in Trastevere and I ate my second baby cow of the week. Why does veal have to taste so good?!

Anyway, it’s finally less than a month until I will be back in the US for Christmas break. I’m starting to get very excited and also very broke. See you soon, America!

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Joey sarà Giovanni, un romano.

On Sunday I woke up bright and early because the Vatican Museums are free on the last Sunday of every month. A few boys living across the hall, Brian, Chris and Tye from the U of O Architecture Program, joined me for their first trip ever to the museums. I kept trying to explain to them how large the museums actually were and if we expected to finish any time today, we would need to speed up, but it didn’t really hit them until we reached what I like to call the “halls of no return”. There’s a point in the Vatican were you can no longer roam around at leisure, but you have to follow a one-way-only track with a group of delusional, exhausted tourists packed in like sardines. My dad equated it to being driven like cattle when we visited two years ago. It also doesn’t help that there’s no AC. By the time we got to the Sistine Chapel, the boys were ready to leave. We snapped a few photos, Chris yelled, “NEXT!” and we were on our way.

The Sistine Ceiling

The Sistine Ceiling

On Monday morning, I finally had to address my sprained ankle from Greece. The swelling had simply not stopped, so Jennifer, my boss, made a doctor’s appointment for me. After running all over town and spending too much money getting meds and xrays, I now have to wear a brace for a month, a MONTH!

That afternoon, Joey flew into Rome and I met him at the airport. He said he wanted a “decadent night”, so I took him to get gelato (of course), which we ate by the Pantheon. Then I took him to Piazza Navona where an Estate Romana (festival called Roman Summer)  event was taking place. We saw a group of opera singers performing on a stage in front of one of the smaller fountains. After the opera singers, a group of dancers came on stage.

On Wednesday Joey and I took a short walk to the Trevi Fountain and ate the best gelato of our lives–San Crispino. In the evening Leisha and Jenn, the new library intern at the UW Rome Center, met up with Joey and I to go to Letture d’Estate at Castel Sant’Angelo. It was a book fair that surrounded the castle with vendors selling new and old books alike. I didn’t bring money on purpose.

On Thursday, I had the morning off, so Joey became the tourist and I became the guide. First I took him to the Campidoglio, designed by Michelangelo. Then we walked out the back to see the beautiful view of the Forum from the Capitoline hill. We walked along the Forum (you have to pay to get in now) all the way to the Colosseum. We sat up on a hill there, looking at the Arch of Constantine. On our walk back to the apartment, we saw Augustus’ Forum and Trajan’s Forum. What a full morning! After work, Leisha, Jenn, Joey and I went to Scholar’s Lounge, an Irish Pub to see a Beatles cover band play. Italians faking Liverpool accents. Wonderful.

Arch of Constantine (note the ankle brace)

Arch of Constantine (note the ankle brace)

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