We have just come back from a glorious family holiday week in Rome, which explains my lack of posts. Obviously as first time Rome visitors we hit all the biggies from the Coliseum to the Vatican to a day trip in Pompeii. We never use tour guides as a general rule (the thought of being in one of those large groups of sheep being led about with headphones on makes me shudder), but we made an exception this time and booked in-depth walks with Context Travel. Context is an amazing network of scholars and specialists in archaeology, art history, food etc. that lead small group tours with specific agendas. We were able to customize for our family of four – catacombs and bones were what the girls wanted, my husband likes lots of history and the technical bricks and mortar of it all while I wanted an elucidated vision of the past 2000 years laid out for me. It allowed us to go deep without tremendous work on our part (I’m still unpacking here so no time for trip planning) and we loved it. They do walks in almost every European city, big US cities and have launched Asia fairly recently as well. I think they could use a shrine sale shopping tour for visitors, don’t you?
One of the things that struck me most about Rome is the way in which we interpret the iconic grandeur of it all – squeezed in amongst everyday life. And while it is all ruins now, it was squeezed in the same way back in the ancient days – even more so – with buildings like the coliseum just being workaday structures.
We stayed in the heart of old Rome, just around the corner from the Pantheon, which had always seemed like an almost magical building to me. More recently I’ve been obsessed with seeing the Pantheon from reading Ben Pentreath‘s amazing post on it – be sure to click over and savor his spectacular photos and writing which really do justice to it. The only photo lacking from his post was the Pantheon at night, so here it is in the moonlight.
At the Vatican Museum I know I was supposed to be looking at the big picture but you’ll have to forgive me as it was the details that captured my attention. None of the scenes in the tapestries interested me, but the borders…
and the flowers around the margins had me entranced.
The floors were riveting too. I am truly tempted to try to recreate this mosaic – basket weave bordered by ribbon guilloche pattern – in a modern-day project.
It was the same at Pompeii. I was just fascinated by the details – chariot ruts in the old Roman roads, small images in the frescoes. I think the flower in this ancient fresco may very well be the same one as in the Vatican tapestry, just thousands of years older. I wonder what local bloom it is meant to be? But honestly, I just want someone out there to turn this one into a fabric design – wouldn’t it be gorgeous?
The well-preserved mosaic floors at Pompeii and Domus Romane at Palazzo Valentini (another must do recommendation!) were my favorite things of all. Dating to the 1st century AD or older in Pompeii, they believe many of these amazing mosaics were the work of Greek artists. Greek key and wave border are utterly timeless – it just doesn’t get better than that.
One of the absolute highlights of our trip was bicycling out on the Appia Antica, the ancient consular road that has been turned into a public park. It is lined with tombs and catacombs (more graves and bones for the girls – who knew they would be so into the gruesome?) and has whole sections of preserved original Roman road (which makes for bumpy cycling). The day was glorious, nobody else was there and as we rode along I could imagine that we had been transported back in time.
Our picnic spot was just outside the tomb of Cecilia Metella, built for the daughter of a wealthy Roman patrician. We lunched on arancini and suppli, rice balls stuffed with mozzarella cheese – basically the Italian version of onigiri – that were by far our favorite foodstuff in Rome. We ate them whenever we could and the girls have insisted I learn how to make them.
The tombs signified the power and importance of different families to visitors entering the city along the road. Many are in ruins now, but these gentlemen were resting in peace.
And this being Rome, I need to get back to the most important part of the trip – the food! While we picnicked on our rice balls earlier in the day, the return ride left us peckish. We pulled over at a small grocery and just told the proprietor we were hungry. He even made a special kid friendly plate for the girls. Mangia!
Oh and the pizza – all the different kinds of pizza. Pizza bianco that was more like a delicious thin focaccia, the divine traditional pizza and calzone we ate in Naples after Pompeii, all of it. We just pointed at what we wanted and used our hands to show how much. Then they cut it and weighed it and we inhaled it.
We wandered the Prati – a real Roman neighborhood with some of the best food shops in town – with a knowledgeable chef, tasting and trying everything. The colors and shapes of the vegetables in the market were inspiring!
There was unfortunately very little time for shopping. The old city in Naples was full of gorgeous large case pieces from the 19th century at excellent prices but no way to get them home. Rome had fancier antiquarians along the Via dei Coronari and we walked by them every day, not for the antiques, but for the best gelato to be had anywhere in the world at Gelateria del Teatro. No photos – I was too busy eating – but imagine flavors like Lavender and White Peach or Ricotta, Almond and Fig. The girls had at least 5 different chocolates to choose from and we went every day.
I did squeeze in a little shopping time. There were two branches of Il Papiro near the Pantheon (and they can also be found in NYC and Palm Beach) and I went searching for marbelized paper for making lampshades. I didn’t find what I needed…
…but I ended up taking some things home anyway. If you want to know more about how these papers were made, take a look at this fabulous post on BibliOdyssey. And ironically enough, “The history of marbling is fairly obscure. It is thought that the decoration first appeared in Japan by at least the early 12th century, from a process known (still) as Suminagashi (‘sumi’means ink and ‘nagashi’ means floating, thus ‘a pattern formed by floating ink’).”
We came back exhausted but replete. And upon my return to Doha, look what I found at the supermarket. Not quite as gorgeous, but nonetheless, the Romanesco broccoli!
One of the things I continue to love about Instagram is the way in which the filters visually allow you to add feeling and emotions to ordinary photographs, especially true when taking travel photos. Don’t you agree?
Arrivederci bella Roma!