Food, drink, film and other random thoughts from The Lone Star State.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Rome: Campo Di Fiori

Campo di Fiori is one of the most colorful neighborhoods in Rome. Its the home of the Jewish community and, not too terribly unexpected, great opportunities for groceries. The open air Saturday Market is lively and interesting albeit mostly a photo opp and takeaway gift shopping experience for tourists.

Don't miss corner groceries on the periphery of the Market, they're Kosher. Well, except for all the ham.

Interesting stops include the impressive Synagogue of Rome, remnant of the Jewish Ghetto, rebuilt -- Teatro di Marcello, a theatre started by Caesar and finished by Augustus -- Portico d'Ottavia, built in 146 BC, it was part of the triumphal procession route taken by the emperor in arms and the army to celebrate victories and the trophies of battle. It was dedicated by Augustus to his sister Otttavia.

This neighborhood is also home to one of the best restaurants in Rome. It is also one of the most difficult to find restaurants in Rome - Sora Margherita. If you can find it treat yourself to some Jewish-Roman cuisine. Definitely order the whole fried artichoke!

Campo Di Fiori Saturday Market

Synagogue Of Rome

Portico d'Ottavia

Teatro di Marcello

Sora Margherita: Jewish-Roman Restaurant

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Rome: Piazza Di Spagna

Piazza Di Spagna is one of the most central, most visited and possible most crowded squares in Rome. It is host to many interesting and historical sights.

The most famous of the sights is arguably the Spanish Steps. The monumental stairway of 138 steps was built in 1723–1725, linking the Bourbon Spanish Embassy to the Holy See, today still located in Palazzo Monaldeschi in the piazza, below, with the Trinità dei Monti the church that was under the patronage of the Bourbon kings of France, above.

In the Piazza at the base is the Early Baroque fountain called Fontana della Barcaccia (Fountain of the Old Boat), built in 1627-29 and often credited to Pietro Bernini, father of a more famous son, Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Colonna dell’Immacolata is devoted to the dogma of Immaculate Conception established by the Catholic Church in 1854. The structure consists of a base of marble, upon which a column of cipolin , which in turn supports a bronze statue depicting the Madonna.

Sant'Andrea delle Fratte is a 17th-century basilica devoted to St. Andrew. The outside is mostly the work of Boromini, particularly the striking bell tower. The inside sculptures are most notably Bernini. I found it interesting that the two prominent and allegedly competitive artists jointly created many sights.

Piazza Di Spagna from Spanish Steps

Bernini's Fontana della Barcaccia

Colonna dell’Immacolata

Boromini & Bernini: Sant'Andrea delle Fratte

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Rome: Piazza Del Popolo

Piazza del Popolo is a large square in Rome, Italy. The name in modern Italian literally means "People's Square", but historically it derives from the poplars, after which the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, in the northeast corner of the piazza, takes its name.

The Piazza lies inside the northern gate in the Aurelian Walls, once the Porta Flaminia of ancient Rome, and now called Porta del Popolo. This was the starting point of the Via Flaminia, the most important route to the north.

Flaminio, an Egyptian obelisk of Sety I from Heliopolis stands in the center of the Piazza. 3 sides of the obelisk are carved by Sety I and the fourth side, carved by Ramesses II. The obelisk is the second oldest and one of the tallest in Rome.

On one side of piazza are Bernini's twin churches, Santa Maria in Montesanto and Santa Maria dei Miracoli. While Bernini had a hand in the design, he did not start, finish nor finance the project. Also, the churches are significantly different despite their appearance.

This was one of my favorite piazzas in Rome, despite the crazy flower guys that put roses in your hand then get belligerent about payment. "Vafanculo" seems to get the message across.

Piazza del Popolo, Flaminio Obelisk

Bernini's Twin Churches: Santa Maria in Montesanto (left) and Santa Maria dei Miracoli

Piazza del Popolo, Fontana Nettuno

Piazza del Popolo, View From Pincio

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Rome: Pantheon

The Pantheon was commissioned by Marcus Agrippa as a temple to all the gods of Ancient Rome, and rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian in 126 AD. Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon's dome is still the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome. The height to the oculus and the diameter of the interior circle are the same, 142 ft. It is one of the best preserved of all Roman buildings. It has been in continuous use throughout its history, and since the 7th century, the Pantheon has been used as a Roman Catholic church informally known as Santa Maria Rotonda.

Do not confuse this Pantheon with Pantheon West, otherwise known as Hadrian's Temple.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Rome: Hadrian's Temple

Hadrian's Temple is a temple to the deified Emperor, Hadrian, on the Campus Martius in Rome, built by his adoptive son and successor Antoninus Pius in 145 and now incorporated into a later building in the Piazza di Pietra. Borsa Bank now occupies the space.

At first I thought this was the Pantheon. What did I know? About an hour later we stumbled across the actual Pantheon and deemed Hadrian's Temple Pantheon West, so we wouldn't confuse it with the other Pantheon.

Note to self: in the future, no Chianti before sightseeing.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rome: Intro & Ara Pacis

Rome is an exciting city and definitely a place I will visit again. I tried to characterize what was unique about Rome versus other places in Italy I have visited. Its really fairly straight forward: a density of Roman artifacts, the Roman propensity to brand food with their own style, it is much more dense, it has a much more pronounced frenetic energy. And then there's the people, which words cannot do justice; they are warm, outspoken, passionate and without conventional boundaries.

A few tips about visiting Rome.

1) Go in late October: Weather is between 50-75, sunny and dry. The tourists are mostly gone.

2) Do not bring dressy clothes: Despite the myths of Italians dressing up for everything, I did not find this to be anywhere close to truth. Jeans, scarves and funky footwear seem to be the status quo.

3) Get a ROMA pass

4) Shop for groceries in Campo Di Fiori

5) Avoid Piazza Di Spagna, Navona and Rotonda on Saturday night: Its a freaking nightmare of congestion; like Times Square on NY Eve, only without any organization whatsoever!

6) Don't expect no smoking sections. They do exist but noone enforces them.

7) See Vatican, Vatican Museum, Colesseo and Forum.

Ara Pacis is an altar to Peace, envisioned as a Roman goddess. It was commissioned by the Roman Senate on 4 July 13 BC to honor the triumphal return from Hispania and Gaul of the Roman emperor Augustus, and was consecrated on 30 January 9 BC by the Senate to celebrate the peace established in the Empire after Augustus's victories.

A large modern museum has been constructed around this monument. Its definitely worth a couple of hours to see the monument. Once inside the museum don't miss the post modern black and white photo exhibits downstairs. Also, while difficult to locate within the museum, there are some interesting residual Ara Pacis artifacts. To access go all the way through the downstairs photo exhibit to the back. There is a small sign about the size of an electron indicating the additional rooms.

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Sunday, October 31, 2010

So long, Porsche

Before I start blogging about my trip to Rome, there was one other minor detail --Porsche died; transmission issue, $25K to repair; buh bye.

It took about a millisecond to get rid of it then about another two months to decide what I might want. Not that I really need a car anymore since I've managed to turn Houston into my own personal Manhattan.

Here's the new one.

People keep asking me if I miss Porsche. I find that a really odd question. Of course I dont. It no longer served any purpose other than to become a growing liability. I always move on from anything displaying this characteristic.