Tag Archives: Rome

Paris, Rome and London!

I’m a lucky guy – I’m spending two weeks working in three of my favorite cities.
In Paris – my all time fave place to eat is Mediterrano at the Odeon, (http://www.la-mediterranee.com/)
in Rome, it’d be Carbonara in Campo di fiori,
and in London – yes you CAN get great food especially if you go to Sheekeys!
@JSheekeyrest @RistoranteLaCarbonaraRoma

What are your fave places in these cities? I love to try new places!

Roman Graffiti

I am in two minds about graffiti.

Sometimes it is just senseless destruction of beautiful facades but more and more it gives voice to a neighborhood in change and transforms organically into art from Banksy and beyond.  Graffiti stretches back through the ages.  It comes from the Italian word “graffiato” which simply means scratched. It really starts like a primitive text message that hasn’t been deleted or expunged from the memory of the ages and it pops up on everything, especially Roman (usually with a clear statement and cause).  It is found in Egypt, in Pompeii, in the ruins of Greece and Turkey, and in the tiny odd corners of Rome.

Recently in Rome, I took a little excursion based on an article I read in one of my favorite magazines, The World of Interiors. I headed to Testaccio which is close to the Protestant cemetery where Keats is buried and the Pyramid of Cestius by the Porta San Paolo.  The pyramid is actually the only surviving Egyptian pyramid in Europe.  It was built around 18 BC by some mad egomaniac who thought he was a pharaoh.  Ego was in high supply during that period.

Testaccio, the Roman neighborhood that sits just behind the pyramid, is going through a bit of a Renaissance.  New restaurants are popping up around what used to be the ancient Roman rubbish heap on the Eastern banks of the Tiber, now known as the Monte Testaccio.  It developed some notoriety in the 1950’s when the filmmaker Paolo Pasolini sat at the top of this rubbish heap of remnants of old roman vessels that carried olive oil for a photograph.  Now this area is a mix of trendy, bohemian, and authentic Roman.

My friend and fabulous Roman guide, Carlotta Boldrini, lives around the corner from here.  Her hood now boasts a new painter on the block.  The article was about these huge murals by Agostino Iacurci. While former markets and factories in Ostiense and Testaccio are transforming into trendy, gentrified eateries, cafes, bars, and apartments, this wonderful artist has pulled together the scruffiness and the neglect of a rundown neighborhood in the process of change and intertwined it with his sensational murals.

As an artist, working outside deprives me of that air of sacredness that you associate with works in a museum,” he says.

Agostino takes on the role of integrating his art into the neighborhoods in spectacular fashion.  His art is big and sits above everyday Rome with warts and all.  His murals are as offbeat as a swimmer with cap and goggles above a fish shop. His equipment is simple: A sponge roller, a cherry picker and simple masonry paint. One day maybe some 2,000 years on, we will find some faded fresco by a huge skyscraper near a tiny pyramid and lament that Rome was once a city that you could walk around and get a decent coffee in a neighborhood bar.
Roman Graffiti Pietro Place Peter Jones Roman Graffiti Pietro Place Peter Jones

 

 

 

Rome

I love Rome.

From the moment I jump in the cab, there is a sense of gradual transition as you journey into this incredibly beautiful city filled with dust, cracks, and occasional garbage bags. It’s all here.

For me it begins as we pass the Sheraton Hotel.  Out in the distance is Esposizione Universale Roma (EUR), a 1930’s modernist vision community of how Rome should be in the new world.  It didn’t really work out that well but it left us some interesting buildings and now a trendy neighborhood with parks and metro access to both the beach and the center of town.  That’s the other thing about Rome – it’s a beach city.  The Roman port of Ostia is connectible by metro from the beach resort through Acilia and trendy living areas of Rome to the Colosseum.

Then for me the real transition begins.  The first sight of any significance is the white marble Pyramid of Cestius outside Porta San Paolo gate. Then you make that turn up the Aventine Hill with the Palatine Hill facing you.  Residential palaces in pink Roman stone look down on the vast field of grass that is the Circus Maximus, one of the largest arenas in the world during roman times.

It becomes frenetic and exhausting at this point with ancient fragments popping up every second it seems.  The right turn at the bottom of the hill takes you by the Bocca della Verità (The Mouth of Truth).  Opposite from that there is a Greek temple then a Roman temple and as the roads start to move around, you start to see what looks like the Colosseum but in fact is Marcello’s amphitheater, the Teatro di Marcello. Behind that is Octavia’s portal and the Jewish ghetto.  On the right side lies the most glorious juxtaposition of stairways anywhere.  There is the very subtle Capitoline Hill Stairs, the Cordonata, right next to the severe and steep medieval stairway that leads to the Basilica di Santa Maria in Aracoeli.  On the right hand side beyond the stairways is the slightly incongruous, but ever faithful tourist site for lost travelers, the 19th century wedding cake built to commemorate the unification of Italy in 1870 named the Vittorio Emanuele monument.

We are now in the Renaissance period with the Piazza Venezia with Trajan’s Forum on the right and I have disappeared into Rome before even my first cappuccino.

Rome Pietro Place Peter Jones Rome Steps Pietro Place Peter Jones

Irish Bars and American Football

Irish Bars and American Football

When you travel anywhere in January, especially in Europe, there is a good chance if you are an American and love American football, there is a major game going on.  As it happened, I was in Barcelona when the Patriots were playing Kansas City so of course my first inquiry on my smart phone was to find an Irish bar.

Irish bars are these remarkable institutions found in every city in the world from Shanghai to Istanbul.  The Irish understand the needs of the modern sports fanatic.  Yes, they sell you Guinness and Harp along with local brews and average food, but the thing they do the best is stay open late so that we can all watch an American football game long after the other bars in the neighborhood have closed.  Irish Bars and American Football simply go hand in hand. My favorite bar in Rome is Scholar’s Lounge and it is ironically next to Berlusconi’s house. I guess he doesn’t mind the commotion with all the parties he hosts!

Irish bars are good for soccer in the afternoon, and American football or baseball into the late evening and early morning. Plus they rock.  They understand that one television screen is not enough – they have 10, maybe more – and everybody gathers there.  I often thing that some people never leave the bars.  In Barcelona, I’m not sure when the bar even closed.  It’s a late city and the Irish bars can outlast any city ordinance for closing.  It must be because my grandmother is Irish that I feel right at home drinking Guinness and watching an American football game in a beautiful city.

Irish Bars and American Football

Roman Ways

Roman Ways

I confess – I love Rome.  Not so much the Colosseum and St. Peter’s (and I ADORE those places) but rather just walking around through the piazzas and the tiny streets that connect them all together like an ancient necklace. This is my take on the many ways to enjoy Roman Ways.

There is that famous adage: “Roma non basta una vita” which means “A lifetime is not enough,” but I will assume that most people have about three hours for a brief walk through time. Usually I and my companions start my walk in the piazza in Santa Maria in Trastevere and end up at the Piazza del Popolo. It is a walk that spans every conceivable period of Roman history with stops on the way for shopping, cappuccino, and gelato. It is a walk crammed with fountains, a Roman arena here and there, and ancient pillars. It is the story of Rome – it is the story of a city we have come to adore.

The main piazza in Trastevere is where we find one of the oldest churches in Rome, Santa Maria, which has walls dating back to around 300 A.D. It is not a bad place to start. Across the Ponte Sisto bridge, which connects Trastevere with the beautiful Via Giulia, we see Michelangelo’s dome of St. Peter’s in the nearby distance. We are heading to the Piazza Farnese to see the Farnese Palace, designed by Michelangelo, and now home to the French Embassy.  On an evening stroll you can often see the magnificent frescos inside, designed by the famous painters, Annibale and Agostino Carracci.

This square is dripping with history. The two bathtubs in the fountains were pulled from the baths of Caracalla. Caravaggio, the painter who had a terrible temper, had a bad argument there with somebody after a tennis game, and argument that resulted in a death. As a result, he fled Rome. I guess you would!

Right next door is the Campo de Fiori. The best slab pizza in town is at the Forno. The fountain–one of many we will see today–is stuck at the end of the square, because what looks like Darth Vader is taking up the center space. His name is Giordano Bruno and he was unceremoniously burned alive here in 1600 for outrageously suggesting that the Earth was not the center of the universe.  Shame on you Giordi!

Campo de Fiori is abuzz with a local market most days and cafés and restaurants surround the outside of the square. It is a real hangout at night. At the bottom of the square is where Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC. Yeah, it is a wild square the Campo de Fiori.

Across the busy street, passing the biggest mortadella (real healthy) in the world, we pass a Renaissance palace, the Cancelleria, and we wind ourselves into the fabulous Piazza Navona.  Here we have a formal introduction to Bernini, the cool and iconic Baroque master of the Pope, and Borromini, the brilliant and very depressed foil to the master himself. This place is loaded.  Inside of this square, there is: a medieval church, a beautiful Renaissance church, a Roman statue (the Pasquino – the original Talking Head), the ancient Domitian stadium 20 feet below ground (and still visible in some places), an Egyptian obelisk, a Baroque fountain (The Fountain of the Four Rivers), and the beautiful St. Agnes in Agone by Borromini. In between all of these landmarks, it is not a bad idea to grab a gelato at Tre Scalini. The tartufo is crazy good!

Gelato done, there is no time to lose. Out of the square and passing the senate building we wander into the spectacular Piazza della Rotunda. It is a breathtaking moment. The Pantheon is staring us down. This is the most perfectly preserved Roman building in the world. It is an extraordinary site as you spill out from the narrow street. There is a steady flow of tourists and Romans walking back and forth and around this magical building with a hole in the top. It is the basis for the great Brunelleschi dome in Florence and Michelangelo’s dome at St. Peter’s. The building, now a church, is also home to Rafael and the kings of Italy…and it is free to get in.

It is a short walk from here through the back streets of Rome, past the Palazzo Chigi, before you spill out onto the craziness of the Via del Corso and up to the Spanish Steps along the Via dei Condotti. There are more designer shops on this tiny street than there are in all of Manhattan, it seems! Here I enjoy heading to the Café Greco to grab an espresso and a tiny sandwich. At the base of the Spanish Steps, there is another fountain, this time by Bernini’s father.

We are getting close to the end of the walk. What better way than a stroll down the very chic Via Babuino to the Piazza del Popolo. To the right are the Villa Borghese gardens, and at the Piazza del Popolo, you can see clearly down the Via del Corso to the Piazza Venezia and the slightly awkward looking “wedding cake building”, Altare della Patria, designed to symbolize the unification of Italy in the 19th century. Beyond the wedding cake is the Forum, Michelangelo’s Capitoline Hill, the Jewish ghetto, and in the distance, the Palatine and the Colosseum.But that is another day.

 

Roman Ways ≈ Rome_Peter_Spanish_Steps 100815 Roman Ways Peter Jones Pietro Place

The Acela Train That Couldn’t

Not to rag on the ACELA train that services the Boston – New York – Washington corridor, but it is a particularly painful experience, costly and inefficient. Compare the Limoliner at $89 where the wireless works, the seats are like first class on an airplane and you get movies to boot vs. the ACELA at anywhere between $130 – $275 where the wireless rarely works, the service on board in first class is a joke and in business class non-existent and there are no movies. Not to mention that you leave from a beat up station like South Station in Boston and arrive at one of the most horrendous in the world, Penn Station in NY. It’s grimy, it’s confusing, it’s full of people who seem to not be catching trains.

And you wonder why America runs on Dunkin’ or buses rather than trains. The journey time is more or less the same, except you have a far greater chance of being delayed on the train, than on the bus. But it’s the service that really stands out. The Limoliner wants you to come back. Amtrak doesn’t care and what’s more, given that the price is half the price of a one-way ticket by air, you would think that the appeal of the train would inspire Amtrak to try and make me want to come back.

I haven’t given up, but I find it incredibly frustrating that in this day and age, when trains are flying along in Asia and Europe at speeds of 200mph or more with friendly service and efficiency, that we seem still to be tied up with a ragged antiquated system along the Eastern seaboard, which is a prime artery for train travel. Boston to Washington, DC (about the same mileage) takes roughly 7 hours and that’s on the fast train. We could learn a thing or two from the Italians: Rome to Milan – about 362 miles in just under 3 hours.

 

Alitalia – Rome Miami

Alitalia – Rome Miami

Flying business from Rome to Miami on Alitalia should be a treat. But really the service, the good, and the comfort of the seats on the 10+ hour journey,  is a joke. They have a casual approach, I guess, to the whole experience.

The movie selection was grimmer than flying TAM.  There was an awful film called La Grande Bellezza, about an aging movie star in Rome who smokes a lot of cigarettes and seemed to get off with young woman. It was pure and absolute misogyny and dreadful to boot.

And I never expect to eat anything other than appalling food on an airplane, but frankly eating something is a way to fill in the hours.  If you’re on BA or any number of half decent carriers, the food is OK – not brilliant, but OK. On Italia it is at the highest level of inedibility. The land of pizza, pasta and gelato – you would think, could rustle up something that resembles something edible. The land of prosciutto and parmesan – surely there must be somebody in charge of the kitchen of Alitalia that could make my 10 hours a bit more interesting!  How they managed to get awards for their meals, is beyond me. Perhaps the reviewer was promised an antidote in exchange for a good review?

But the food, this was business or as they call it Magnfica. Even the picture on their website looks like the food stylist took the day off.  Two kinds of putrefied pasta and a risotto you wouldn’t give to your dog. Fearful for my life when I saw the meat dish, I opted for the fish as the follow-up. One bite into the branzino and I realized that this baby had been cooked up a storm and probably should’ve been taken out of the oven several days before, along with the congealed sauce it sat in. Still there was always a chunk of cheese at the end of the meal that I could look forward to. But no luck, the parmesan packets where nowhere to be seen!

Alitalia has nice enough people as crew, but they spend most of their time practicing the art of conversation (with each other!)  and seem absolutely disinterested in the people they’re supposed to be serving. In fact you feel awkward about interrupting their conversation for a glass of water – and they seem to have it figured out because they have set up a self-serve station. Not Magnifica, not at all. I hate to think about what was happening in Economy. Miami was but a few hours away and I was headed off to warmer climates, and hopefully warmer customer service.

Lunch at Da Fortunato al Pantheon in Rome

Lunch at Da Fortunato al Pantheon in Rome

I’ve been coming to Rome for a long time, yet every time I want a great lunch I always end up at the same place: Da Fortunato al Pantheon.  It seems as though the waiters have been there as long as I’ve been going there. They remember you, they’re nice. The most important thing is that the food is simply out of this world.  I always have the same thing, depending on the season: either untarelle, a chicory dish with anchovies, or radicchioalla grilla, the spaghetti alla vongole veraci and a large bottle of sparkling water.  It’s quite simply the greatest lunch experience I’ve ever had in the world.

It’s simple; the restaurant is discreetly tucked away behind the Pantheon Square, the Piazza della Rotonda.  I am sort of a chaotic kind of guy and I know Rome really well – I like to experiment, try different restaurants, and discover new things in cities. But there’s never been a time where I’ve been in Rome and not gone to this marvelous institution; because in the end, there is simply nothing better than the food at this restaurant.

 

On the Fast Train from Venice to Rome

On the Fast Train From Venice to Rome

Imagine this, the water taxi picks you up from the palazzo, you jump into this elegant motor launch which wanders through the tiny canals until at last it breaks out into the open lagoon, and there’s the Salute church in the center of San Giorgio on the Giudecca, and across the towering column with the symbol of Venice perched atop and Doge’s Palace, the Clocktower, the Basilica, the Cathedral – and you imagine you’re in a movie.

Under the Accademia bridge, past the Peggy Guggenheim museum and then a shortcut that brings you around to the Piazzale Roma;  in the distance you can make out the freneticism of the mainland as you turn the corner of the canal and see the railway station, essentially abutting the canal and the boat docks. You roll your bags off, walk to the station and sitting there is the fast train to Rome, the Frecciargento.

In spite of all of the chaos of Italy, all of the confusion, the fast trains are a shining example of efficiency that you’ll find nowhere else in the world. The train rolls out within the second, on time, everytime – traveling at speeds close to 200 miles an hour. You arrive in Rome’s Termini station, 3 hours and 40 minutes later having traveled a distance of over 300 miles. Welcome to Rome.

 

The Traffic Cop’s Symphony

I could not resist stopping the car and asking the guy standing in the middle of the traffic circle a question.

I wasn’t really lost but honestly it was like I had rediscovered an old friend.

There he was with his gloves on, conducting traffic, no traffic lights to bother him, and the cars, even in this chaotic country, obeyed his every move. There was a guy, whom I recall with fond memories, that stood on a podium at the end of the Via del Corso and the start of the Piazza Venezia in Rome. He wore white gloves, a very white uniform, and conducted the traffic as if it were a symphony.

The Vespa’s and motorbikes would stop at his every whim. Then a glance and a finger pointed and in one fell swoop he would start the traffic flow from one street and stop the flow from another. I always imagined that the cars and scooters were parts of his orchestra. Everybody would obey. A tilt of the head, a look away, a hand to halt an ongoing flow of traffic, and all in constant movement, exhausting, artistic, and beautiful. The Traffic Cop’s Symphony.

I do not see him anymore but in Turin that day, I saw a glimmer of hope.