Tuesday, May 8, 2012


Rome – Day 34 – Wednesday

Fountain in Piazza del Popolo
Today was an easy day and I couldn’t have done more.  I got up a little later and hung out in my room until 11:00.  I had a reservation at the Borghese Gallery at 1:00 and didn’t want to be late, so I took the metro to the Piazza del Popolo (this means populace, not pope) and took my time strolling towards the gallery.  I visited one of the churches on the square and then climbed up the hill to the grounds of the Villa Borghese, which is now the Central Park of Rome.  I stopped at an overlook to admire the skyline of Rome and snap a few photos. 
Rome Panorama
Spanish Steps
 I passed by the top of the Spanish Steps and enjoyed the view for a few minutes.  I pondered the immense Villa Medici and thought about the amount of wealth they must have had to have owned so many grand palaces.  Even Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg don’t live in such palaces and certainly don’t have one in every city.  I wonder about the future of our society and whether or not the disparity between rich and poor will continue to grow until the wealthy return to the excesses of these historical princes.

Today’s wealthy travelers stay in the luxury hotels above the Spanish Steps.  This peaceful, yet conveniently located neighborhood is definitely the place to stay in Rome if you can afford the tariff.  Eventually I passed through the wall surrounding the garden and strolled up the tree lined boulevard to the Villa Borghese.

The Villa Borghese
The Borghese Gallery requires advance reservations, so it was a much more orderly scene than the Vatican Museum.  I got there a bit early, picked up my ticket and checked my bag.  At 1:00 they let us in.  The art in the Borghese Gallery is amazing, but so is the building.  Cardinal Scipione Borghese built the Villa in the early 17th century to showcase art and collected or commissioned most of the art displayed there.  His aim was to prove that the glories of the classical world were matched by those of the Renaissance.  He outdid himself.  There is no doubt in my mind that the baroque sculptures in his collection make the classical ones look lifeless and old fashioned. 

The ground floor is dedicated to sculpture and the upper floor to painting.  The Villa is a riot of pink and gold marble with mosaic floors transplanted from Roman houses.  Any walls not actually faced with marble are painted to look as if they were.  The ceilings are lofty and painted so cleverly that I often had to look carefully to determine that the “statues” I saw there were really only two dimensional.  Upon entering the grand hall, one is greeted by a Greek sculpture of a falling horse, high upon the wall, with a rider added by Pietro Bernini.

The elder Bernini was hired by Cardinal Borghese to restore and in some cases augment the classical statuary in his collection.  His son, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, assisted him and his work so impressed Cardinal Borghese that he commissions several works.  The result is that the Borghese Gallery is a magnificent showcase for Bernini’s early works.  Bernini may have been in his early twenties when he carved these statues, but they are sheer genius. There is none of the heaviness usually found in marble sculpture.  They are light and graceful, full of waving leaves, blowing hair and flowing drapery.  You can see every muscle, tendon, vein and hair.  Where Pluto grasps Proserpina, her flesh is dimpled.  The hair on the chest of Pluto’s three-headed dog Cerberus parts realistically.  Really, who ever thought about how the hair would grow on a three-headed dog?  Apollo and Psyche are so light and youthful that you expect them to scamper past you.  Sturdy Aeneas carries Anchises out of burning Troy with his son dogging his heels and a fierce and determined David (a self-portrait of Bernini) aims an ugly rock at an unseen Goliath.  The murmuring in the room verified that I was not the only one to think that Bernini’s David was a lot more interesting than Michelangelo’s.  Can they burn me at the stake for that heresy?  No art has moved me so since Gaudi in Barcelona.  I have developed a passion for Bernini.  Too bad I couldn't take any photos in there.

Borghese Gardens

I had brought some leftover cheese and crackers, so I bought a soda and had a picnic in the park.  Any money I saved by bringing my own food was negated by the four Euros I paid for a lousy 33 cl soda.  Soda is not too expensive at the grocery store, but everywhere else it costs as much as buying a coke at the movie theater.  Wine is generally cheaper.  Beer is also expensive, generally running about five Euros for a bottle and sometimes as much as 12 Euros for fancy imported beer in large bottles.  Wine by the bottle is priced comparably with wine at home, although it’s harder to find cheap stuff unless you know where to take your jug to get it filled straight from the winery.

Lake at Borghese Gardens
I lounged about the park for an hour or two and then made my way back past an idyllic lake where people sunned themselves in rented rowboats to Piazza del Popolo.  I popped into the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo to see the Raphael designed and decorated chapel featuring a couple of Bernini statues, but it was in the process of repair or restoration and the entire chapel was screened from view.  Darn!  Guess I’ll just have to come back next year.  Despite not having done much all day, I was tired.  I hopped on the subway and rode back to the subway station just past my hotel and made a side trip to a famous and crowded palace of gelato where I splurged on a chocolate and banana cone.  (I did tell them to hold the whipped cream.)

I went back to my room and rested for a couple of hours before going out for Indian food.  Tuscan food may be heavenly, but Palak Paneer is still my favorite food.  I popped over to the train station to go to the bank so I wouldn’t have to do it while toting my luggage, went back to the hotel, packed and went to sleep far later than I had hoped.

Rome to Sorrento – Day 35 – Thursday

Got up early and trundled my luggage over to the train station to catch a 9:00 train for Naples.  It was a nice fast train and I had a first class ticket.  I sat with two older Italian business men and we talked a bit on the way.  One of them was very quiet until the subject of Vino Nobile came up.    We traveled south through a valley between increasingly rugged mountains and finally came to the coast at Naples.  It was good to see the sea after having been inland for over a month.

At the Naples train station, I transferred to the Circumvesuviano line, which is a light rail system serving the Naples area.  I rode about another hour on that train to Sorrento.  It was very crowded and I had to stand most of the way.  There were a lot of Senegalese on the train.  Apparently, many of them were working in Libya and somehow ended up in Italy as refugees.  Vesuvius dominates the horizon in this area.  We passed Pompeii on the way to Sorrento. 

When I was looking for a hotel in Sorrento, I could not find an affordable one in the central area.  I settled for one a few kilometers outside of the city, thinking a cab ride would be reasonable.  Fortunately, I read some of the hotel reviews the night before I left and learned that it is a 40 Euro cab ride from Sorrento to this hotel.  While it is less than two miles as the crow flies or as I could walk downhill, it is about a 1,500 feet up an extremely steep hill and the main road takes 8 kilometers of narrow, winding road to get here.  Fortunately, there is a bus and a bus stop in front of the hotel.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the bus driver to stop there.  I had to get off at the next town of Sant’ Agata and get a cab back down the hill.  That cab ride was 12 Euros, but the driver only charged me 10.  He was a friendly old guy.  I wave to him when I see him in town. 

My Room at Villa Fiorita
Extra Beds - This is a Single?
View from Villa Fiorita in Sorrento
The hotel is very nice, if not exactly convenient.  My room is huge.  I had reserved a single room with a garden view, but I ended up with a quadruple room with a sea view.  There is a king sized bed and also some bunk beds.  They serve a better than average breakfast with real orange juice and hard boiled eggs.  The view is stunning.  I can see Naples and Vesuvius across the Bay of Napoli from my window.  To get this on the Amalfi coast for $79 a night, I can deal with the bus.  The only downside is that there is no free internet.  The hotel charges 6 Euros an hour for internet and there are no internet hotspots in Sorrento as far as I can tell.  It was cheaper to call Scott on the phone than to use the internet at the hotel.  I guess my blog will be delayed until I get to Florence.
Chasm Through Sorrento

I was exhausted when I got here, but didn’t have time in my schedule to spend an afternoon sleeping.  I took a couple of hours to do some laundry and get organized and then caught a bus back down to Sorrento about 2:00.  I checked out Sorrento’s main square and then got some lunch.  Tasso square is actually a wide bridge that spans the chasm that splits Sorrento in two.  This chasm is hundreds of feet deep and the walls are pretty much vertical.  The people who live in this part of Italy are basically cliff dwellers.  The steps that descend this cliff date back to the 5th century B.C. when the Greeks lived here.  Before the 19th century, the whole town was on the western side of the ravine.

Giant Lemons  (Oranges are Normal)

Lemons are the main business in Sorrento.  They are grown everywhere.  The hillsides are terraced and planted with lemon and orange trees.  The lemons and grown in wooden enclosures covered with netting that creates a greenhouse effect.  This is supposed to enhance the flavor of the lemons.  It also protects them from hail and birds that might damage the peels from which limoncello is made.  Limoncello is wonderful, but too heavy to schlep home.  I have a lemon tree and a recipe.  I’ll try to make some when I get home.  They grow a number of different varieties of lemon here.  One of them grows bigger than a grapefruit … a lot bigger.  I saw one today that dwarfed a cantaloupe.

Four Euro Macchiato

I had a very pleasant lunch in an outdoor café in the old section of Sorrento.  I had a pizza that approached what Americans call pizza and a glass of wine.  Spoiled by the 1 Euro coffees in Montepulciano, I ordered a macchiato after lunch.  It was the most beautiful macchiato I have ever seen and came with a tasty cookie, but cost more than my glass of wine.  No one ounce cup of coffee could ever be worth 4 Euros!  I won’t do that again.

Old Sorrento Harbor
After lunch, I hit all the interesting spots in Sorrento.  Sorrento is really not a very interesting place.  It is pretty, centrally located, cheaper than other places on the coast and has lovely weather.  It does not have a whole lot to recommend it, otherwise.  Still, I enjoyed walking down to the old port and being warm for a change.  
Lounge Chair Anyone?
New Sorrento Harbor
Not much goes on at the old port.  There isn’t much beach, but you can rent a lounge chair on the breakwater if you are so inclined.  For some reason, there are very few sailboats around.  The ferries and excursions to Capri all leave from the new port which is located at the bottom of the ravine.  I tried to walk there, but failed to figure out how to get down there until after I had run out of time and energy.  I walked around the new part of the town a bit, bought a bottle of wine and failed to find anything that looked worth buying for dinner.  The pizza I had for lunch was very filling and I wasn’t very hungry.  Eventually, I made my way back to the bus station and located a bus to my hotel.  This time, I managed to get off at the right stop.

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