Rome Travel Guide

Rome Architecture, History, Art, Museums, Galleries, Fashion, Music, Photos, Walking and Hiking Itineraries, Neighborhoods, News and Social Commentary, Politics, Things to Do in Rome and Environs. Over 900 posts

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Walking in Rome "Safely", or "You Can Walk but They Can Kill You"

You can't.  Walk in Rome safely, that is.  But there are some things you can do, and information you need to have, to improve the odds of your staying alive in the Eternal City.

Parked in a crosswalk
1.  Cross the street at lights and crosswalks (with white stripes).  That would be sensible advice anywhere, but it's especially relevant to Rome, where Rome drivers are conditioned, more or less, to stop for, or avoid, pedestrians in white-striped crosswalks.  In theory, pedestrians have the right-of- way in crosswalks, but as Dad told me, "there's no right of way in heaven."  Many motorists will stop for a crosswalk pedestrian only if the ped is aggressive--that is, steps into the crosswalk, thereby indicating that he/she is determined to use the crosswalk, even if a car is coming.  And that's not something everyone will feel comfortable doing, or should.,  Older persons--older women, especially, it seems to us--use the crosswalk as if it were 1960, not even looking to see if there's a vehicle approaching.  Perhaps they imagine they're still in a rural village.  Today, in Rome, this is insanity.  Be aware, too, that the stripes of many crosswalks are faded, sometimes badly faded, and may be difficult for drivers to see.

And of course, sometimes vehicles park in the crosswalk. Worse still, in the Flaminio piazza where we lived, vehicles--cars, trucks, scooters (we do it, too)--routinely use the crosswalk to make u-turns up the adjacent street.  Keep you eyes peeled.

2.  Even when crossing at lights there are hazards.  Cars seldom go through red lights, but about 1 in 10 scooters pay little attention to the color of the light. Often scooters will approach a red light, slow down, then accelerate through it.  Moreover, traffic in Rome is such that when the light turns green, vehicles--especially scooters--move away rapidly.  Therefore, be sure you have plenty of time to get across the intersection; don't get caught in the street when the light changes. In the words of a 1970s blues tune, "stop on the red, go on the green, don't get caught by Mr. Inbetween."

3.  Understand that Rome motorists are distracted in a way they were not only a few years ago.  Today, many  motorists and scooter drivers are listening to music, on the phone with a spouse or lover (maybe having an argument), or otherwise not paying full attention to the road.  Some of those driving scooters will check their cell phones, and even text, while they're in motion (it is possible, though ill-advised, to drive a scooter with only the right hand, which covers the accelerator and one brake).  Not long ago, on the fastmoving Muro Torto, a woman on a scooter, on the phone (tucked into her helmet) was driving with the right hand while gesturing dramatically with the left.

4.  Watch out for Smart Cars.  Rome's Smart Car population is growing rapidly.  Two problems arise.  First, Smart Car drivers are among the most distracted in the city.  Why?  Because, unlike most automobiles in Rome, Smart Cars shift automatically.  Hence drivers do not have to use two hands, leaving one free to a) smoke b) eat c) use a cell phone d) gesture.   Second, Smart Car drivers, feeling liberated from the big cars they used to drive (and that had trouble navigating traffic), now act like scooter drivers, weaving in and out of traffic, often dangerously.  But they're not scooters.  They can't turn as easily as scooters or stop as fast as scooters.  It won't take long for Smart Car drivers to learn they're not scooters, but as for now the lesson hasn't sunk in.

5.  Scooter drivers vary in their behaviors.  Some will brake for pedestrians (no matter where they are), others will swerve to avoid them without stopping, and still others will avoid them, but barely--as if the pedestrians were cones in game of skill.  So beware.  Most scooters, thank God, can stop on a dime. But--this is really important--scooter drivers may be on the phone or listening to a favorite tune and hence somewhat distracted.  Even so, driving a two-wheeled vehicle without falling requires having eyes on the road at all times.  You can pretty much guarantee that a scooter driver will see you in the crosswalk and will be thinking about whether to stop or how to avoid you. Not so with cars.

6.  There is no right on red in Rome, and it's uncommon.  But some do it, anyway.

7.   "You can walk but they can kill you."  That's been our motto the past few years.  Unlike in the States, where a pedestrian walk light indicates that pedestrians can expect the intersection to be clear of vehicles, in Rome a pedestrian walk light is often coupled with a green arrow for vehicles that signals the right to move through the area you';re about to walk in.  If that seems crazy or wrong, get used to it.  To be safe, expect it, especially at complex intersections.
"You can walk but they can kill you."  Crosswalk, pedestrian OK, but cars turning right over the crosswalk,
in front of you.  That's Monte Mario in the background.  

Heavy traffic?  Scooters now and then use the sidewalk.
8.  In the city, use available protections.  In Rome's center, many streets have no sidewalks.  Some have poles in the street providing pedestrians with protection from vehicles.  Use them.  If the street has no poles, duck in between parked cars when vehicles pass.

9.  Sidewalks normally provide protection against getting run over.  But scooters often park on the sidewalk, and to get there they drive ON the sidewalk, sometimes for most of  a block. If traffic is very heavy, scooters may use the sidewalk as if it were another lane.  Be aware.

10.  While crossing one-way streets, look both ways.  Rome isn't London, where driving the wrong way on a one-way street would earn a quick ticket.  Scooters, especially (including this driver) will sometimes go the wrong way to find a parking space--or whatever.  Be conscious.

For more on scooters, see our posts on renting a scooter in Rome, riding a scooter in Rome, parking a scooter in Rome, getting a ticket in Rome, preventing scooter thefts, and junking a scooter in Rome.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

New Life in the Tiburtina Station - shopping, education, even high speed trains

Tiburtina train station - now inhabited - for comparison, see the 2013 photo at the end of this post - virtually the same shot.
We wrote about the Tiburtina train station 3 years ago, 6 months after it opened, when it seemed like an empty movie set (see photo at end of this post), and we predicted it wouldn't find life in the near future.  We were wrong.  The station may not be chock full, but it's certainly found life.  For those who want to travel without the stress of Termini (made even worse this year with construction and new security procedures), try Tiburtina!

Finally there are coffee bars, in fact several of them.  And, you can sit down for free, you can get your own water, the barristas are nice, the place is efficient, the coffee and cornetti decent.  The arrivals and departures are clearly displayed right there.  What more can one ask?
There's even some shopping at the station - bright, clean, modern stores.  And, we found. a terrific, small exhibit on - mainly - Roman artifacts relating to food.  "Le Vie del Cibo"  - The Roads of Food - from Ancient Rome to Modern Europe -that was up through mid-June.  Hopefully another exhibit will soon go into this space.

The show was a good, fairly simple primer on Roman and Etruscan history, with lovely examples explained in both Italian and English.  And, it was free.

The Tiburtina station is the home station for some of the fast trains, and for a lot of connecting trains. Don't dismay if you find yourself routed through there.  It's also a remarkable piece of architecture.

Tibrurtina Station 2013

Monday, July 11, 2016

Poems for Everyone - A New Book Inspired by Piero della Francesca

The Rome connection here exists, but first we want to celebrate our long-time Italian friend, Dana Prescott’s new book, Feathers from the Angel’s Wing: Poems Inspired by the Paintings of Piero della Francesca

This gorgeous book was a labor of love for Dana, who lives at what must be the epicenter of the largest number of paintings in the world by this ever more-prized 15th-century, early Renaissance artist.  That location gave her the obsession (and yes, it is that) that led to the book.  As the New York Times complained a few years ago Piero ”took more commissions in Sansepolcro than anywhere else, and his greatest works remain in its vicinity — a source of great frustration for Piero obsessives outside of Europe, who must visit a series of small villages to see his frescoes and altarpieces.”  Though the Frick Museum in New York City now has acquired 4 Pieros and mounted a show in 2013 that the Times called “ravishing.”  The word applies equally to the emotion emanating from the poets Prescott has culled in this meaty book.

Madonna del Parto - is she opening her dress? pointing
to her rounded belly?  Are the angels opening or closing
the draperies?  Note the pomegranate design on the
curtain - a symbol of fertility.
The writers Prescott includes range from the established and revered (long after his death) Pier Paolo Pasolini to the American rock star/writer/poet Patti Smith.  But those two aren’t the alpha and the omega here.  Among the poems that touched me most are two that were read at a book launch in Rome in June.  Both of these poems were inspired by my favorite Piero, the Madonna del Parto (The Pregnant Madonna), which remains in Sansepolcro, where it is treasured as a good omen for pregnant women.  Moira Egan’s “Gravid,” composed of 2 9 line stanzas, each line of 9 syllables, includes the sentence:  “I said no to nature, then nature turned and said no to me.”  Contrasted with Egan’s “grief and guilt come in colors, dull red, queasy green,” is Mongolian poet G. Mend-Ooyo’s, “The Pregnant Madonna.” That poem takes us lyrically “Between the trees, grains thread their way across the fields….Each of the seeds is its own world.”  Mend-Ooyo, who grew up in a nomadic family, still has the nomad’s sense of the power of the earth. 

In her work as executive director of Civitella Ranieri, the international cultural center near Sansepolcro, Dana nurtures many translators.  Perhaps because of this background, she gives tribute to the many translators at work in her book as well, their bios given equal status with the poets.

I would be remiss in not pointing out the quality of this hardbound book – the paper, the colors, the reproductions.  It’s a beautiful gift to someone in your life. [At amazon.comPowell’s and]

St. Luke, in the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome
And, finally, the Rome connection to Piero is fragmentary and lost, both literally.  There are a few heavily damaged fragments of an unfinished ceiling work in Rome’s Santa Maria Maggiore.  Piero also painted frescoes on the walls of Pope Pius II’s rooms in the Vatican.  By order of Pope Julius II, they were painted over – by Raphael.


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Ariccia: For the Birds, and the Pigs

Ariccia may be our favorite town in the Colli Albani.  The entrance to it is simply spectacular: over
an elegant and long bridge, spanning a deep gorge, the city center just at the end, magnificent views of the coastal plain and the Mediterranean beyond.

The tranquil main square, with a bar and exterior seating, is the perfect place for a morning coffee.
Around the corner is "main street," narrow and inviting, shops and bars, locals sitting--and trimming green beans.

Then there's a whole "other" Ariccia, just through the town and down left: a spilling semicircle with perhaps a dozen restaurants and cafes, all featuring some version of pork, most with some sort of pig logo out front. (The bridge to the right of the photo on the right is the same one pictured in the older photo, below.)

Today, the restaurant area is to the right, and down.  View looking north/northwest.  

And trucks delivering Ariccia pig meat going by.

One time we chose Osteria del Borgo and pappardelle with...pork (wild boar)!  And a plateful of porchetta (photos above and left).  All pork all the time (we first wrote about Ariccia's porchetta in 2011).  On another visit we discovered a street of restaurants heading up the hill alongside the Parco dei Chigi.  Men and women hawking their restaurants even crossed the street to accost us.  Nonetheless, we chose one - Osteria da Angelo (da 1920, "hand made pasta" - those factors attracted us), and had a terrific porchetta "starter" followed by that pasta.  We've now discovered the difference between dry and moist porchetta.  You definitely want the latter.  And, you need to eat it with some of the crispy skin and fat for flavor.  Just do it.
Bernini's Church of the Assunta - he was inspired by the Pantheon dome, as he was reconstructing the Pantheon into a church.
The small fountain to the left in this picture is the Fontana delle Tre 
Cannelli (Fountain of the Three Spouts).  The fountain
also sports the Chigi symbols - the mounds topped by a star.
A tasty town, yes, but the most remarkable aspect of this small community is that it has two monumental buildings by the distinguished 17th-century architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini.  We think that's two more than any other town in the Colli Albani (but we could be wrong).  The Bernini buildings are on the central square, facing each other.  The entire square, with the palazzo on one side and the church on the other, was designed by Bernini for Chigi Pope Alexander VII, and that is one reason we were so impressed by the view of the town as we came over the bridge.  The bridge, a 19th-century addition to the town, was destroyed in World War II and rebuilt after.
View of "lower" Ariccia (the dome of Bernini's church is visible), part of the immense park, and, beyond, the Mediterranean.  The nets at the side of the bridge are there to catch would-be suicides.  

Across the street from the church, the long white building is Bernini's (and Carlo Fontana's--a Bernini pupil) Palazzo Savelli Chigi (photo of entrance above). The two rebuilt an earlier structure in baroque style in the 1660s.  The palazzo belonged to the
Chigi Pope Alexander VII (we think), eyed by Dianne.
Chigi family for more than 300 years, finally ceded to the Commune only in 1988.

It was a setting for the 1963 Luchino Visconti film, Il Gattopardo ("The Leopard"), starring Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale and Alain Delon, and now hosts exhibitions and events.

From the terrace.

The rather plain facade belies a complex and rich decorated interior.  A balcony/deck overlooks the gorge and park below--what used to be Chigi property - and fascinating enough to us that Dianne is writing it up as a separate post (all Ariccia all the time!).

In the Palazzo Savelli Chigi, we especially enjoyed the "admissions" room, with a ceiling delightfully painted in birds--and an animal we couldn't identify, devouring a mouse.   So don't forget to look up!

Bill and Dianne