Our particular haunt in the Eternal City was the Pantheon square:-
And, if you look at my Roman Holiday *collage*, you'll see the greatest gelaterie in all the world - the della Palma, in the sidestreet opposite and to the right of the Pantheon. I don't even like ice cream that much, but I would willingly give my little toe for another tub of their chocolate and coconut gelato... it even had Greg Peck and Audrey on the walls!
Of course, the *main attraction* - *I suppose* - is the Pantheon itself. It was rebuilt in 125AD, and standing in the beam of sunshine streaming into the shade through the ocular (or Great Eye, oooh!) in the dome is something akin to a religious experience. The sarcophagus of the artist Raphael reads ILLE HIC EST RAPHAEL TIMUIT QUO SOSPITE VINCI RERUM MAGNA PARENS ET MORIENTE MORI - "Here lies Raphael, by whom Nature feared to be outdone while he lived, and when he died, feared that she herself would die."
The Vatican is quite sinister, what with all the secret doors in the sides of statues (true!) and secret underground passages we could glimpse through the gratings in the floor of St Mark's - but special mention for me goes to Raphael's Stanza della Segnatura in the Palace. The four walls and the frescoes on the ceiling depicted the four features of humanist learning and worldly and spiritual wisdom: philosophy, theology, justice and poetry. As the camerado pointed out, "Exactly what you're going to study on your course!" (And yes - my place to study Theology at Cambridge has been confirmed!! Can't wait until September!!)
Like magic! Rome is, indeed, enchanted. Look at this wildflower-bedecked bower of ruins we literally climbed into in the Forum:
Even more wonderfully whimsical was this beautiful boating lake we found in the Villa Borghese! There was a fabulous old temple on a secret island surrounded by bright pink blossoms and willow trees, and people were sculling their little rowboats in between the dozens of turtles and ducks bobbing around in the water... one boat of girls was celebrating a birthday with faerie-pink balloons! Rowing around the lake reminded me of:
- Rattie and Mole The Wind in the Willows! (But who is who? Actually, I am Toad - the camerado is Rattie, practical and efficient.)
- That gorgeous scene in The Notebook where they are rowing in the rain laughing.
- That even more gorgeous scene in Funny Face where Audrey Heburn is dancing in her wedding dress with Fred Astaire beneath the trees by a little chapel, and then they step onto a raft and drift off down the river with the swans into the sunset...
Audrey on the scene: "Stanley (Donen, the director), who at the time was perfecting his French, was photographing Fred and me floating down a stream on a little raft at the end of the picture. Stanley wanted to dress up the scene by having us followed by a flock of swans as the picture faded out - only the swan wrangler, as we called him, was late with his cue. And so, with the camera rolling, a desperately frantic Stanley started yelling at the top of his lungs, 'Les singes! Les singes!' What he meant to say was 'Les cygnes!' or swans. Instead, he was calling out for monkeys."
- Redwall rowing chants:
Oh, the river is deep and swift and wide
An' there's my matey at my side!
With the sunlight beamin' through the trees
We'll all remember days like these.
Oh oh waylaheykoom shrumm shrumm shrew, I won't forget a friend like you!
Without a doubt, though, my favourite place out of all of our travels has to be the Villa D'Este. It's an hour's bus ride from Rome in a small town called Tivoli, but it is more than worth the journey. Designed by a crazy Cardinal in the 1500s and tucked away in a little courtyard, we walked past the entrance a couple of times before even realising it was there. But, oh, the incredible giardini delle meravigli - the terraced gardens - are filled with dozens and dozens of FABULOUS FOUNTAINS, from a musical Water Organ at the top of the largest one to the Terrace of a Hundred Fountains (look, you can see them in the Three Coins in the Fountain opening sequence)! The light and the shade of the trees and the sounds of the water really were like the setting of a fairy-tale and it really did feel like the best of everything we love most, Narnia and Bushy Park and Hampton Court and the boating lake! It cast a sort of spell over us, too; we lay there for hours in a kind of enchanted slumber... as you can see:-
And the red circle is me standing in the spray getting very wet.
As Three Coins in the Fountain reminds us, 'you've never lived until you've loved in Rome!' Here are some things we learned through trial and erroneous error:
- I was turned away from the Vatican for wearing shorts and had to buy a pair of trousers for 12E - don't let it happen to you!!
- STAY NEAR THE CENTRE. We stayed in the Ricasoli Guesthouse (http://www.cross-pollinate.com/), a 15-20 minute walk from the station. The room was fine, and the owner, Bin Chen, is very sweet and helpful and gives you maps and advice - but be warned. It's too far from the city centre to walk, and although there's a metro station just around the corner, it closes early (10pm on Sundays, as we found out on our first night...) and the last night buses back to the train station are around midnight - you end up missing out on a lot of the nightlife. On the plus side, everyone crams onto the night buses and no one seems to check for tickets, so at least you get a free ride home!
- Save your euros for gelato and eat in the sidestreets just off the central areas - the food is much cheaper and actually much better than the few touristy-places in the main squares that we tried. Tuna pizza!! But beware!! One waiter (see if you can find the restaurant - the sidestreet to the right of the Pantheon, covered in ivy and bedecked with fairy lights!) brought us out two huge goblets of free wine - and kept refilling them! And it was good wine, too!
- Most importantly - don't forget to SHOP! Even it's only of the window-variety on the famous Via dei Condotti - we actually walked past a film crew shooting a model strutting down the street laden with Louis Vuitton handbags!
(How much do you love the camerado's Marilyn Monroe-'We're having a heatwave'-style dress?? On a scale of misty longing eyes to green envious ones??)