Monday, June 30, 2008

Italian Journey – 18th to 24th June (Part 1)

Action packed trip to Italy last week. Flew into Rome and holed up for two days in the Trastavere district – we stayed in the Hotel Santa Maria, an elegant little boutique hotel in the middle of a warren of alleys. There we dined outdoors in the hotel's own little orange grove. Schedule was hectic, Rome was hot (32 C), beer was consumed at regular intervals. Just to the right of the Spanish Steps was the Museum Di Chirico – you must book in advance, but it’s worth it. You get a private tour of the great man’s house and studio and you get to view dozens of his masterpieces, and a whole bunch of conventional academic stuff he did before he reverted to the signature style for which we know him (see right). You see his much younger wife’s double bedroom and his monk-like single bedroom. She was the model for a lot of his academic work and a fine worthy looking lump of a girl she was. A surprise for me were the beautiful Brancusi like sculptures he did mainly in silver and bronze.

We were with some visitors from the USA so certain tourist sights had to seen - at this time of the year, in this climate, that was a painful mistake. We cooked in the cauldron of the Colosseum; we sweated bricks in the Pantheon; and we trod the via dolorosa through St. Peter's Square. But from time to time there was respite.We visited the Capuchin Cemetery on the Via Veneto and checked out the mouldering monks and the beautiful decorative, albeit macabre, uses that their bones were put to. We also heeded the message therein: AS YOU ARE WE ONCE WERE - AS WE ARE YOU WILL BE. Nice.

But you know the great pleasure of being in Italy is the food and being able to dine outdoors with friends. Each evening we relished the first Prosecco and the slow procession through the menu - plates of pasta, plates of meat, and all the while the Montepulciano working its magic. We tried to stay away from the tourist areas and found some great spots without venturing outside Trastavere.

Driving is daunting in Rome with those pesky Vespas buzzing around you all the time. The trick, a taxi driver told me, is to drive as if they don't exist and they'll do the avoiding. Good advice I found out as I headed out of the city towards Siena.

Siena is a beautifully preserved city and is free of the curse of traffic. The cathedral is a striped marvel with a very unusual highly decorated bronze of John the Baptist by Donatello. We aim for nothing more than a stroll around and a leisurely meal at the Papei Trattoria - with a glorious view across Tuscany at dusk.