Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Travelogue – authentic food

Stories from Wednesday (July 11) and Thursday (July 12).

Best quote so far: A restaurant hostess urged me into her place by saying, “We have real Italian food! Our chef is Italian!” I didn't go in.

I spent Wednesday morning at the National Museum of Rome. The first floor (which is the first floor above ground floor) was mostly statues from the Roman Empire. That was the only way Caesar could get his likeness out among the people. So I learned a bit about Roman history and how the style of statues changed over the centuries. That included noting difference in hair style, clothing style, ways the subject was posed, and how the stone was worked. There were also statues of athletes and gods. The most famous in this museum is the Discus Thrower.

On the top floor were reconstructions of rooms from ancient Roman villas. The rich would construct big homes (for the time) away from the city center and decorated them in fine style according to the tastes of the times. Back in the late 19th Century and up through the mid 20th, the construction of various civic projects revealed some of these villas, and some of them were intact – well, intact enough to show walls and floors. The frescoes on the walls and mosaics on the floors were preserved and mounted in this museum. Some of it was amazing. This photo shows a room of frescoes.

I spent most of the afternoon resolving the Orbitz problem, documented in a previous post. I later wrote up a long letter exactly why I was displeased with them. I'll deal with that when I get home.

In the late afternoon I went to the Baths of Diocletian, mainly because it was nearby and included in my morning ticket (and that was discounted through my Roma Pass). There wasn't much of the Roman Baths to see – most of it had been converted into a church. The rest of the displays were about the Italian peninsula before the Romans. I didn't stay long.

I spent the evening wandering. Back to the Spanish Steps (mostly because my Roma Pass included use of the subway system and I hadn't done that yet and that was an easy trip to take). Over to Ara Pacis, a new building enclosing an old animal sacrifice that supposedly brought in the Era of Peace or the Pax Romana of the 1st and 2nd Centuries. Then back across town to find dinner and see the Trevi Fountain all lit up at night. Then back to the hotel.

Thursday was Vatican Day.

The morning started with me sleeping in. I got to the entrance to the Vatican Museum a bit past noon, online ticket in hand. There is a lot in that museum, including a lot of Roman art. While a good deal was quite secular (a great statue of Apollo), one can get tired of another saintly pose by yet another pope. I think my favorite art was by Rafael, titled the School of Athens, depicting many of the ancient Greek philosophers debating each other. As Rafael was painting in this room Michelangelo was down the hall painting in the Sistine Chapel. Rafael was so impressed he included an image of Michelangelo in his own painting (in the front in the purple cloak).

Then it was on to the Sistine Chapel (where no photography is permitted) and St Peter's Basilica. There I took lots of pictures. The place is huge, though everything is done to scale so it doesn't look huge – until you see how small people look in comparison (cherubs are routinely six feet tall – compare to the size of the people beside them).

Along the center of the nave is a series of inscriptions in the floor. Measured from the front of the nave they represent the lengths of other large cathedrals around the world. I'm not sure which one this is, it is simply the one that photographed best. It seems to be a case of, “Mine is bigger than yours.”

St. Peter's and other churches are very strict about a dress code. No bare shoulders, no exposed knees. St. Peter's might turn people away. I saw other churches hand out flimsy shawls so women could cover their shoulders. Weird. But then these are the sexually repressed Catholics.

My Vatican visit ended by taking the elevator to the roof and climbing the stairs to the top of the dome. Great views from up there and beautiful late afternoon weather.

From the Vatican I walked to the Trastevere district, known for its narrow streets and many nice restaurants. And for once I didn't pay $30 for dinner.

Now that I've been walking around town for several days I've noticed that people of a proper weight (which we would probably consider “skinny”) are the norm, not the exception. I'll let you wonder what exactly caught my attention. I think part of it is appropriately sized meals (though if one worked at it one could over eat by getting both the pasta and meat courses. I've hear a lot about “portion inflation” in America, where every restaurant vies to give you just a little bit more than the competition. And Americans believe one portion is whatever is put in front of them.

Another thing I've noticed is few places are air conditioned to American standards. If they are cooled at all, the thermostat would be set much higher than we would. That means it isn't easy to duck inside somewhere to cool off. In many cases all you get is shade (though that can be a help).

When I get into my room I must put the key in a box by the door to turn on power to the room. The lights are not on when I'm not there. That includes power to the AC. It's not running while I'm gone, either. I've also come to the room in midday to see the window open. Alas the AC isn't all that strong so even if on overnight it only cools the room by 4-5 degrees. Right now I'm sitting directly under the AC, even if it isn't the best place to type.

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