My weekend profession: extreme tourism

I know you all are in dire need of an update on what I did last weekend.  Well, you happen to be in luck.  I hit the roads and toured it up, doing my best to not stand out like an American amidst the throngs of tourists.  I feel that I did a pretty good job, but I’d imagine that any local could have spotted me out of a crowd easily.  Once a ferengi, always a ferengi!

I’ll break up my weekend into two posts, and this first one will focus on my Saturday trek through the streets of il Centro Storico (the historic center):

I woke my ass up at 0630, as I have heard that you do NOT want to get stuck amidst the aforementioned tourist masses.  My solution, beat ‘em to all the good sites.  It worked.

I was out the door at 0710, and off to find Piazza Navona.  If you haven’t heard of this place, look it up (or just keep reading).  Think of a quarter-mile track stretched to be a much thinner quarter-mile with elongated straightaways and shortened, tight turns.  Now fill in the area inside the track with a cobble-stone lining, and move said imaginary track to the center of Rome.  Still with me?  Good.  Around this track, put a palazzo (palace), an amazingly beautiful chiesa (church), and some other nice looking apartment buildings and cafés.  For the finishing touches, place three of the most beautiful Bernini fountains you could ever imagine in the piazza – one at either end with the crown jewel smack dab in the middle.  You are now envisioning what I stumbled upon at 0730, devoid of people save a few folks walking their dogs, or out for an early jog.  In a few hours, this place will be bustling with tourists, vendors, and pick-pockets packed like too much luggage into an overflowing suitcase.  No thanks, I’d rather beat the crowd and get personal with these fountains – the only downside being that I traded an open viewing area where my valuables are safe for less-than-ideal lighting.  I’ll take it.

The first fontana I found was at the north end, named la Fontana del Nettuno (the fountain of Neptune).  I was amazed, this was my first real fountain encounter of the Rome trip.  I’d seen some little guys, but damn, this one was for real.  Neptune was looking like a boss, surrounded by his watery minions.  After taking photos from every angle, I looked down the piazza to the other two.

Neptune in his element

Neptune in his element

Next was the gem – la Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (the fountain of the four rivers).  In my opinion, Bernini’s masterpiece, and I can’t name more than a handful of his works.  I was in awe of this massive structure: it depicts four great rivers personified – the Nile, Ganges, Danube, and Plate – is skewered by a massive obelisk, somehow incorporates a lion, a horse, a serpent, a palm tree, and numerous water creatures.  Check it out for yourself, I did my best to select a few photos that gives you a view of the majority of the piece.

Ganges chillin on the left, with Nile being all shady on the right.  His face is shrouded as a symbol of the fact that the source of the Nile was unknown at the time - shout out to Lake Tana (http://tuttleinafrica.wordpress.com/2012/07/18/bahir-dar-day-i-my-true-welcome-to-africa/ ; http://tuttleinafrica.wordpress.com/2012/07/19/bahir-dar-day-ii-smoke-on-the-water/)

Ganges chillin on the left, with Nile being all shady on the right. His face is shrouded as a symbol of the fact that the source of the Nile was unknown at the time – shout out to Lake Tana (http://tuttleinafrica.wordpress.com/2012/07/18/bahir-dar-day-i-my-true-welcome-to-africa/ ; http://tuttleinafrica.wordpress.com/2012/07/19/bahir-dar-day-ii-smoke-on-the-water/)

To round out the crew, we have Plate on the left, and Danube on the right

To round out the crew, we have Plate on the left, and Danube on the right

La Fontana in all of it's glory, with la Chiesa di Sant'Agnese in Agone looming in the background

La Fontana in all of it’s glory, with la Chiesa di Sant’Agnese in Agone looming in the background

The final fountain, la Fontana del Moro, was cool in its own right, but let’s be honest: tough act to follow.  Bad luck Moor, just isn’t your day to shine.  After getting my fill at Piazza Navona, I was off to find my next great wonder: il Panteon (not miss-spelled, just not American-ized).

The Moor looking onto the other two fountains

The Moor looking onto the other two fountains

I rolled up on the Pantheon like a well-planned ambush – from behind.  Massive.  And seemingly decrepit.  However, you get to the front, and your opinion changes.  You get inside the door, and your jaw drops to the floor.  Getting there right at opening was the right decision, as I shared this wonder with only a handful of other tourists.  Built in Hadrian’s time (~120 AD), this was originally a place of worship for the many Gods (hence pan = many, theos = god – good looks Lonely Planet).  It was later converted into a Christian church, and houses some important remains, including my main man Raphael.  But that roof…

That's what I'm talkin'about

That’s what I’m talkin’about

On the doorstep

On the doorstep

A nice view of the oculus.  Oh, and if you have a 43.3m sphere, I've got a perfect place for you to hide it...

A nice view of the oculus. Oh, and if you have a 43.3m sphere, I’ve got a perfect place for you to hide it…

You may be wondering how they deal with rainwater at the Pantheon, as the oculus (9m in diameter, again, metric is a big thing here) allows water to fall freely inside the building.  Great question, I had the same one myself.  The ground just below the opening is convex, and slopes gently to 22 well-placed holes in the ground that drain any water that falls inside.  Just amazing if you ask me.  But enough about il Panteon – onward and upward, many more churches to see!

Proof that I was involved in taking the pictures you've seen, thanks to a well-positioned fresco-viewing mirror!

Proof that I was involved in taking the pictures you’ve seen, thanks to a well-positioned fresco-viewing mirror!

Look to the top of this altar in la Chiesa de Gesú to see the largest single piece of Lapis Lazuli in the world.  Obscure gems let's go!

Look to the top of this altar in la Chiesa de Gesú to see the largest single piece of Lapis Lazuli in the world. Obscure gems let’s go!

The church tour started with the best of ‘em, though the others put up a good fight.  I hit up a total of 5 other churches that day, including la Chiesa di Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, la Chiesa de Gesú, la Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola, la Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi, and la Chiesa di San’t Agostino.  I’ll let you translate those on your own, fairly self explanatory.  To sum up my religious day (summer) tour: holy roofs.  Seriously, these folks are big on flamboyance in their places of worship.  Out of this world intricacy when it comes to paintings, sculptures, stone-work, altarpieces, etc.  They sure do make for some amazing tours though!

Apparently this ceiling is flat? ... Also, my future home will be peppered with similar frescoes, only scenes from nature. Fact

Apparently this ceiling is flat? … Also, my future home will be peppered with similar frescoes, only scenes from nature. Fact

Please note the focus of this picture is on the gull.  Excellent perching spot

Please note the focus of this picture is on the gull. Excellent perching spot

Other things that happened: I managed to fake it into an all-Italian tour of the Crypta Balbi – all I know is that the place had something to do with cisterns…  Hit up a few museums, and hot damn the Romans sure do know how to do museums right.  I also stumbled upon the filing of some Italian movie/TV show, and am pretty sure I ended up in the shot.  To top off an exhausting day, I napped it out, had a pretty vicious headache, and met my lovely landlord.  His son (Alessandro, who speaks English and was my contact for getting the apartment in the first place) was in town, and Emilio, a lovely 80s-ish Italian man who speaks no English, was looking out for me.  He made sure that Alessandro checked with me at least four times that I was happy with the place, and that all was well.  A charming man to say the least.

You tell me, did I make it in the shot?  I hear that Italian TV/movie extra is quite a lucrative profession...

You tell me, did I make it in the shot? I hear that Italian TV/movie extra is quite a lucrative profession…

Get ready for first weekend adventures parte due (Italian for two, pronounced doo-eh).  And yes, get ready to hear about some more fountains and churches!

The reason why I visit the big sites first thing in the morning...

The reason why I visit the big sites first thing in the morning…

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