A New Travel Blog

It’s been awhile…

If you want to travel vicariously with me on my latest trip to London, Italy, and Istanbul, check out my new travel blog here.

Buon Viaggio!

Melinda

 

It’s All About The Dogs

We had arranged for a driver to take us to the airport.  Donatella had mentioned she would come to see us off and collect the keys on our last morning, but she hadn’t shown up. 

At 7:45 a.m. we took a last look around the apartment, and leaving the keys on the table, pulled the door tight behind us. As we started down the garden stairs, we spotted her bustling towards us with a cardboard box in her hand, the lid slightly askew.

“Sorry I’m late!” she said. “I had some blood drawn at the clinic and they were slow.”

She handed us the box, explaining she had stopped at a Sicilian bakery to buy us some treats for breakfast. She was sorry she hadn’t arrived in time for us to eat them at the house. We told her we would gladly eat them at the airport.

The check-in line at the airport was surprisingly long, even though we were very early. We had to shuffle forward every few minutes, pushing our bags before us. During one of the adjustments, Gino jostled the bakery box and it fell, spilling our sweets onto the floor. Everyone around us groaned as we begrudgingly threw them into a nearby garbage can.

Don't tell me! NAPPING?

It can’t be! Is he napping AGAIN?

As the plane rose into the air, I watched the Italian ground slip away, misty-eyed. I knew it would be at least another two years before we’d be back to the Bel Paese.

Ciao, Italia!

Ciao, Italia!

Hours later, San Francisco Bay came into view. The city lights glittered like jewels in the crystal clear night.

I love "The City."

Back in the USA

It was late when we opened the back gate. We were home. Two very happy dachshunds were ecstatic to see us.

************************************************************************************

The motto around our house is, “It’s all about the dogs.”

Throughout our travels, we see dogs accompanying their owners everywhere: in restaurants, stores, parks, on the street. It always reminds us, with a pang, about our own back home.

waiting for scraps.

Hoping for scraps.

Where's that walk you promised, buddy?

Where’s that walk you promised, buddy?

Is it lunch yet?

Is it lunch yet?

That bus is sure taking its sweet time.

That bus is sure taking its sweet time.

It’s the only bad thing about travelling — leaving them behind.

"Beware of Dog" in Latin.

“Beware of Dog” in Latin.

"Beware of Dog" in Italian.

“Beware of Dog” in Italian.

"I'll wait here."

“I’ll wait here.”

If you’ve been following this travel blog of mine, you’ll already know that our precious dog, Corky, died while we were in Rome. Thousands of miles away, there was nothing we could do. Maybe that’s how he wanted it — for us not to be there at the end.

The burden fell on my son Justin, and daughter-in-law Hilary, who stepped in as surrogate “parents” in our absence. And for this, we are forever grateful.

Corky was our faithful companion of 14 years, saved from the streets of Roseville at seven months old, and soon thereafter adopted by Gino and me.

Corky was king of the house, as acknowledged by his two younger “brothers,” Rocco and Vinnie.

Rocco: "I'm not spoiled!"

Rocco: “I’m not spoiled!”

Vinnie: "Neither am I!"

Vinnie: “Neither am I!”

Rocco and Vinnie. The German dachshunds with Italian attitudes.

Rocco and Vinnie. The German dachshunds with Italian attitudes.

Corky’s absence still leaves a hole in our hearts, but we smile at memories of him playing soccer in the backyard with a ball and his head, and how he learned to do the “stealth crawl” by commands: “James” (down), “Bond” (crawl). Every day he would greet Gino’s return from work with a goofy dog smile.

Corky Colangelo

Corky Colangelo

Corkles, this one is for you. Because, as we all know — at least at our house —

It’s all about the dogs.

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Until the next trip, dear readers…Arrivederci!

Ciao Italia!

At the apartment, we finished organizing our bags. It wasn’t a big job since we always travel light.

oije;kj;lekj

Gino, taking a brief sonnolino after packing his bag.
(I guess I should really quit posting photos of him taking naps, and making snarky comments like, “Some people just can’t keep up.” However…

With the apartment and our bags all in order, we stepped back out into the warm evening. It was high time for an aperitivo.

Since this was our last night in Rome, we wanted to stay here in Trastevere, on our side of the river.

In the heart of the action, we came upon a fun looking spot called Big Mama. It turns out this is the best place to hear the blues in Rome. Too bad we had just discovered it!

"Salute!" to Italia!

“Salute!” to Italia!

A couple sitting at the table across from us asked Gino what he was drinking. They were from Liverpool and seemed quite curious about his cocktail stuffed with mint leaves. They’d never seen a Mojito before.

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There were plenty of places for dinner, but we weren’t quite ready yet. Instead, we lingered in Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere, mingling with the locals and tourists.

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It was a gorgeous night.

It was a gorgeous night to be out and about.

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Everyone was in good spirits, but we were kind of sad knowing this was our last night…until next time.

Everyone was in good spirits. But we were kind of sad, knowing this was our last night.

 

People were draped around the fountain in the center of the square, relaxing, chatting, and just reveling being in the most stupendous city in the world.

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The Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere glowed behind them. I walked over and looked up.

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Golden, just like our memories of Rome.

The campanile

The clock on the campanile reminded us
our time was growing short.

Of course, I had to end the night with one last gelato. Fatamorgana, just off Piazza San Cosimato, was the place. Fatamorgana makes the most amazing gelato using only organic ingredients.

My final flavors: pumpkin and ricotta cheese. And yes, it was good! It was oh, so good.

Beneath the Basilica

Back inside the Basilica di San Crisogono, I searched around for a sign indicating the way down to the basilica sotterranea, the ruins of the underground church.

I found the entrance off to the side in the sacristy at the end of an aisle. An old man was there to collect the modest admission fee — 3 Euro — and to point the way: through a door to an old iron staircase leading down to a vast space below.

Would you like to go first?

Would you like to go first?

Here, beneath the basilica, were the remains of the original 4th century church. This ancient structure was not discovered until 1907 when the “newer” church that sits on top of it was being renovated.

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Miraculously, I had the place to myself. I explored every nook and cranny, every shadowy corner, stony path and step. I came upon well-preserved frescoes, sarcophagi, and even an old stone baptismal font.

Since no one else was here, it was completely quiet. Even my footsteps were muffled on the dirt-laden floor.

There is no need for words. Just follow me.

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If you’ve followed any of my other trip blogs, you may remember that I am pazza for the secret, mysterious, hidden away parts of Rome. I was having the time of my life down here.

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Rome Beneath the Basilica 8645

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Dare you look inside?

Do you dare to look inside?

Are you sorry you did?

Are you sorry you did?

It was amazing how bright and vivid some of the paintings still were.

It was amazing how bright and vivid some of the frescoes still were. Remember, they are 1600 years old!

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Just as I had exhausted everything there was to see, I heard people gathering at the top of the iron stairway. It was a small tour group getting ready to descend.

Quick! Before they all come down and spoil the mood.

Quick! Before they all come down and spoil the mood.

I went back up as they came down.

Back in the sacristy, the old man greeted me. I told him how much I had enjoyed seeing the basilica sotterranea. Wringing his hands, he lamented how there was no more money to continue excavating, or to even do anything more with what has already been discovered. I nodded in sympathy.

I re-emerged from the church and hustled up Viale di Trastevere to pick up the side street that led to our apartment. Not very far down, I spotted Gino, sitting at a small outside table of a closed restaurant.

Pleasantly surprised and quite delighted that he had waited for me, we walked back home together.

Basilica di San Crisogono

Striding along Viale di Trastevere as we headed back towards our apartment, we passed a large church I hadn’t noticed before.

A plaque in front of it identified it as the Basilica di San Crisogono from the 12th century. However, as with many of Italy’s churches, this church had been built over an even older one from the 4th century.

Rome Basilica di San Crisogono 8621

The Basilica di San Crisogono was one of the first parochial churches of Rome. Today, it belongs to the Mendicant Order of Trinitarians, who are not allowed possessions and live on charity.

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On a whim I ducked inside. I’m glad I did because it was jaw-dropping gorgeous.

The ceiling was phenomenal.

The ceiling was phenomenal.

Dazzling!

Dazzling!

Gasp!

Gasp!

Pretty unbelievable.

Pretty unbelievable.

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The floor was amazing, as well.

Am I right?

Am I right?

Off to one side preserved in a glass box lay the body of Anna Maria Taigi, a woman from the 1700’s who was said to have been able to see the future in a globe. She was beatified in 1906.

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Blessed Anna Maria Taigi

This painting hangs above her.

This painting hangs above her altar.

One wall of the basilica was partly covered with several small silver hearts protected behind a glass.

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These were ex-votos, offerings from worshipers to thank a saint for his or her assistance in answering a prayer for a miracle.

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The baptismal font.

The baptismal font.

j;k

That’s quite the candle-holder.

ssggs

Bernini created the baldocchino.

I am not a member of the Christian church, or any organized religion for that matter, but this had been a heavenly experience.

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By now, Gino was getting tired. During the day, he had somewhat recovered from his night at the Big Star Pub, but he was running out of steam. 

As we left the church, I grabbed one of the pamphlets that told about its history. I was just a few steps down the street when I glanced at it briefly, just long enough for my eye to catch the word sotterranea.

Hold everything! That meant there was something underground, beneath this church. I stopped walking and looking more closely at the pamphlet.

“I’m going back,” I told Gino. “There are a bunch of ruins underneath that church. Do you want to come along?”

One look at him told me he didn’t.

“Ill catch up with you in a few minutes,” I said. And bolted back inside.

Via Giulia and the Farnese Family

A block from Campo dei Fiori we stumbled into Piazza Farnese.

Rome Via Giulia 8570

This open square is home to the Palazzo Farnese, one of the largest late Renaissance palaces in Rome. Commissioned by a Farnese family member who later became Pope Paul III, this 16th century building boasts architectural elements added by none other than Michelangelo.

The French Embassy now lives here.

Above the windows, the Farnese coat of arms.

Since 1874, the Palazzo Farnese has housed the French Embassy, which explains the otherwise inexplicable presence of military vehicles and personnel.

They look friendly enough.

They look friendly enough.

In the middle of the piazza sit those two enormous granite bathtubs displaced from the Baths of Caracalla. Now they serve as decorative fountains.

Note the stone iris at the top. It's the symbol of the Farnese family.

Note the stone iris at the top,
symbol of the Farnese family.

This amazing detail was on one of the buildings.

This amazing detail was on one of the buildings surrounding the piazza.

At one end of the square you find an even older building: the Chiesa di Santa Brigida. Although the facade dates from the 17th century, the structure itself is from the mid-1300’s where Saint Bridget of Sweden lived during that time.

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After she died, the house was turned into a church in her honor.

Saint Bridget.

Saint Bridget.

The end of Piazza Farnese bumps up against Via Giulia, named after Pope Julius II. Via Giulia may be one of Rome’s most beautiful streets, but it has one of the most scary looking fountains in Rome: the Fontana del Mascherone, the Fountain of the Big Mask.

Terrifying, especially if you unexpectedly come upon it at night, like we did once.

Terrifying, especially if you unexpectedly come upon it at night,
like we did once.

Commissioned by the Farnese family in 1626, this fountain was made by combining two ancient sculptures, an ancient Roman bathtub and an ancient mask.

During lavish parties hosted by the Farnese clan, wine would flow from the spout. Ironically, today the water is not potable, unlike the majority of Roman fountains which have cool, delicious, drinkable water.

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Further down Via Giulia, the Arco dei Farnese is probably even more recognized than the Fountain of the Big Mask.

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We stood beneath this picturesque arch marveling at Michelangelo’s graceful design.

Arco dei Farnesi

Arco dei Farnesi

Thick hanks of ivy cascaded from its top, flowing out into a lush curtain of green.

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Another iris, symbol of the Farnese Family.

Another iris, symbol of the Farnese Family.

Never too busy to stop and greet a friend.

Never too busy to stop and greet a friend
along Via Giulia.

Via Giulia is the first of ancient Rome’s streets to be laid out in a straight line, which it does for almost a kilometer. One of the most exclusive addresses in the city, it was, and still is, flanked by opulent palaces, churches, magnificent private residences, and the occasional antique shop. One of these times I will walk its entire length.

For another day.

For another day.

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Today, however, we were crossing the Tiber and back into Trastevere.

Campo Dei Fiori

After our tear through the streets of Rome, we pointed ourselves towards the river to eventually make our way back to Trastevere. We did, after all, have to pack up for our early morning departure to return home. But we won’t think about that quite yet. First, let’s indulge in a couple of pizzas at Bar Orchidea.

They were everything Umberto had promised!

Deliziosa!

Deliziosa!

Remember we had no specific plans for today, it being our last one in Italia. So, it was by happenstance that we came upon Campo dei Fiori.

The daily market at Campo dei Fiori.

The daily market at Campo dei Fiori.

Campo dei Fiori means Field of Flowers. During the Middle Ages, this was actually a flower-filled meadow.

As a tourist passing through, you might not know that public executions were once carried out here. Today, in the middle of the square, you will find a large statue of Giordano Bruno, a philosopher who, in 1600, was accused of heresy and burned alive on this very spot.

Notwithstanding its dubious history, Campo dei Fiori is now a place where people gather for fun-times. An open-air market sets up here every day which sells everything from household items, clothing, and souvenirs, to food, food, and more food. And don’t forget the flowers.

You can still find flowers at Campo dei Fiori.

You can still find flowers at Campo dei Fiori.

We’ve been here many times before, but we never get tired of perusing the stalls. By now it was late afternoon and the vendors were just starting to pack up. Still, there was plenty to see.

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Campo dei Fiori: where it’s fun to shop for dinner.

Pick your pasta.

Pick your pasta.

So many kinds to choose from!

So many kinds to choose from!

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My favorite is called Strozzapreti — “Choke the Priest.” 

You can't have pasta without olive oil.

You can’t have pasta without olive oil.

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And you’ll need something to pour it from.

You'll need some spices.

Don’t forget the spices!

Take your pick of condiments.

Take your pick of condiments.

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And since we're here, grab some balsamic vinegar.

And since we’re here, grab some tasty balsamic vinegar.

Time to pack up.

Time to pack up. Market time is over, at least for today.

After dark, this square transforms into one big party. Nocturnal revelers drape themselves irreverently around Bruno’s statue and perch on the lip of La Terrina, a large fountain which name means “Big Soup Bowl.” But it would be hours before the partiers arrived and we’d be tucked into Trastevere by then.

Oh oh! The Carabinieri. Andiamo!

Oh oh! The Carabinieri are here. Andiamo!

And with that we scuttled off.