What have we been doing so far? (Part 1)

OK. This post is a bit of a catch up for those who haven’t been following us on Facebook, so it might be a bit longer than future posts are going to be!

We arrived on Friday 13th of January (which was not, as it turned out, even slightly inauspicious for us!), into a cold and blustery morning, which was something of a shock after leaving overheated Australia. There is nothing quite like the sense of wonder that accompanies arrival in a foreign city after a long flight; in our case it seemed almost as if the city was waking itself up just for us – we departed the airport in darkness, but by the time we got to the Campo Dei’ Fiori, right in the centre of the historical centre of Rome, the city was well and truly awake and bustling. Nowhere more so than in  the Campo, where its famous market was just setting up.

Our apartment – right at the back of a rather crumbly looking block that overlooked the cobbled square – was small, but perfect for our needs. Very centrally located, the fruit and vegetable markets of the Campo right outside our door, a comfy bed, roomy lounge, and a tiny but workable kitchen. In short a splendid base of operations for our 10-day stay in Rome.

We normally “do” a city in three or four days, so having ten whole days in Rome seemed like a luxury.Yet this city is so stuffed with things to see and do that we still managed to miss out on a few things, even though we visited a museum of some kind almost every day! We haven’t been to Rome in over 20 years, so it was really a lot like being there for the first time – although there was a certain amount of that strange familiarity that comes with seeing famous places and things with your own eyes for the first time. I’m not going to make an exhaustive list of all the places we visited (but it does occur to me that people might be interested in our “top 10”, so I might do a separate page on that), but the highlights were probably the Colosseum, which is awe-inspiring from every angle, the nearby Capitoline Museums, the Forum and Palatine Hill complexes, and the fascinating MAXXI (Museo dell’Arte della XXI Secolo), as remarkable for its architecture as for its exhibits.

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The Colosseum still inspires awe

But the greatest joy in Rome is, I think, the simplest – just walking around. The city bustles, no doubt about it, and even in the middle of winter is thronged with tourists, but it is still great fun wandering among the cobbled lanes that can open at any minute onto a famous piazza, like the Piazza Della Rotonda, dominated by the architectural marvel of the Pantheon, inspiration for both Michelangelo and Brunelleschi. Or being enticed into a nice warm little trattoria by the inevitable spruikers  who seem to be employed by every restaurant, a welcome escape from the cold and often a nice culinary surprise.

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A church dome and campanile seen through a screen of the ubiquitous Roman pine trees, from the top of the Palatine Hill

Rome is of course also stuffed with art. We didn’t make it to the really big galleries – the Borghese, or the Vatican Galleries – which we’ll save for another trip later in the year, but we were both quite taken with a couple of exhibitions that surprised us. One was an excellent small retrospective of the work of the American Edward Hopper, in a neat little gallery under what used to be called the Vittorio Emmanuele Monument, and is now, apparently, simply the Altare della Patria (The Altar of the Country). And the other, as mentioned above, was the Capitoline Museums, where almost every room has some sculpture or picture that takes your breath away.

And we had one major performing arts experience, a night at the Rome Opera for a performance of Cosi Fan Tutti. We had booked seats in a box on the side of the theatre, and when we were making the booking the lady at the counter had given us a bit of a funny look as she told us that the view wasn’t great. She was right – we had “rear” seats, though the seats were in fact moveable chairs, one a little higher than the other. Our companions in the box turned out to be just one rather taciturn man, and another who turned up, took one look, and never reappeared. So there were the three of us, which made it a little less squeezy. Rob managed to ease his way to the front of the box, which gave him a good view, but I had the seat at the back, where half the stage was obscured.

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Rome Opera – The boxes look glamorous, but aren’t always comfortable and can have sightline problems …

Nonetheless, challenges with our choice of seats aside, we did have a nice night. The sparse stage set was modern, a sort of schoolroom with a few chairs and desks, whiteboards, and sundry cupboards and chests. A large screen and projector were used creatively to suggest scene changes and events such as the departure of the two young men to go off to war. But overall this is an opera where the setting and costuming add (or detract) little from the story – which is mostly silly anyway! Mozart’s music never fails to scintillate, and on this occasion the orchestra performed their function with great verve under the direction of Speranza Scappuci. We had the A Cast, all of whom were splendid, but especial standouts were handsome Argentinian tenor Juan Francesco Gatell as Ferrando, Francesca Dotto as Fiordiligi, and Monica Bagelli as Despina.

To cap off the week, our very last event was a dinner with our old friends Peter Reeve and his partner Jaycen Fletcher, at a restaurant called the Casa Coppelle. We had been being fairly frugal up to this point, eating  in relatively low budget restaurants or at home, so it was lovely to enjoy a 6 course degustation menu with matching wines in a very fine restaurant indeed.

And so our ten days in Rome came to an end, with a lot left undone to be revisited again at some point in the future. Next stop, Venice – subject of the next entry …

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