I recently made my third trip to Italy in three years. In some ways it was a repeat of a trip I made last year, with stays in Naples (5 nights), the Amalfi Coast (3 nights), and Rome (4 nights).
It was my third time in Rome, and I decided I wanted to stay near the train station this visit, choosing Hotel Adler near Piazza Repubblica. A perfectly fine low-budget place, even if not in the ideal location. I only wish one of the two English channels available on the TV had not been Fox News. But then, I wasn’t in Rome to watch TV.
I’ll mostly talk about the highlights of my Rome stay here, but first a few words about my other two destinations…
Naples – Sorry Rome lovers, but bella Napoli has overtaken Rome as my favorite place in Italy. As much as I love Rome (and I do love it very much), I think I now love Naples even more. Go ahead and listen to all the naysayers if you want. Go ahead and judge it by the ugly parts of the city you see from the train on your way to Pompeii or Sorrento. But honestly, you have no idea what a fascinating, wonderful city you’re missing out on. I wrote a detailed trip report for Naples, which I linked to at the bottom if you’re interested. Also, I’ve included a link to my Naples photo set.
Amalfi Coast - Stayed in Positano for three days, in a cheap hotel right on the beach. Both coming and going, I took the ferry that runs between Salerno and Positano, and the views along the way were absolutely incredible! I highly recommend doing this at least once before you die. Though lovely, the town itself became a crushing bore after three days. I suppose it’s a fine place to go if you just want to relax, enjoy the view, and shop for women’s clothing. The main reason I went back to the Amalfi Coast this year was to hike along the Path of the Gods, beginning high above Positano, which I did, and it was wonderful. What was not so wonderful was the Bus Ride from Hell afterwards. I’m talking about the little orange local bus that runs between Positano and Praiano. I happened to step onto when it was going in the wrong direction, and so instead of being on it for 20 minutes I was on it for almost an hour. The whole time it was winding, winding, and winding through the streets of Praiano, and then finally winding and winding some more along the coastal road towards Positano. By the time I jumped off the bus in Positano, my stomach had turned over and inside out several times. I took five steps and vomited on the side of the street, no doubt a lovely sight for tourists and locals alike. Definitely the lowest point of any of my trips to Italy....or trips to anywhere, for that matter. I’m happy to report that I at least got some nice photos while on the Amalfi Coast. The link is at the bottom.
And now, the highlights from Rome....
Palazzo Barberini - It was raining as my train from Salerno came into Rome, so I took a quick look in my guidebook to select a good activity for a rainy afternoon. I settled on Palazzo Barberini, partly because it was a short walk from my hotel. This turned out be one of the most enjoyable aspects of my stay in Rome this year. If you find the seemingly endless onslaught of art at the Vatican museum overwhelming, and instead enjoy art in smaller doses and in more intimate settings such as Galleria Borghese, then Palazzo Barberini is not to be missed. It has two Caravaggios, and who doesn’t love Caravaggio? Also, one room has a fascinating illusionist fresco on the ceiling – in looking at it you could swear it’s sculpture rather than paint. I must have craned my neck staring at the details of this ceiling for 20 minutes. But it was another painting that really took my breath away. Imagine, if you will, a beautiful young woman with golden flowing hair and bare breasts, holding up a sword in one hand and the severed head of some jerk she’s just beheaded in the other. “THAT is one cool work of art,” I remember thinking. I don’t recall the name of the painting or the artist, so if any art scholars out there can give me a clue I’d appreciate it. Anyway, I look forward to another visit someday to Palazzo Barberini.
Ancient Roman Sites – Early the next morning I went to Palatine Hill to see the newly reopened House of Augustus. It was lovely to walk around the grounds of Palatine early in the day when the air feels crisp and fresh and almost no one else is around. There was no line whatsoever for the House of Augustus. The vibrant colors of the frescoed walls were amazing. I was struck with how much the style resembles what I saw last year at Villa Oplontis, a site near Pompeii. While still on Palatine Hill a little while later I looked down into the forum and saw the courtyard of the House of the Vestal Virgins. This was an unexpected delight, as when I visited the forum two years ago this courtyard was completely closed off and I was unable to even catch a glimpse of it. Apparently they still don’t allow you to walk through it, but there is an opening in one corner where you can peer into it. But actually, the best view is from above while on Palatine Hill. Later that day I paid my first visit to the Baths of Caracalla. Like the Coliseum, this place is a mere skeletal shell of its former self, and the hundreds of sculptures that used to decorate the area were removed long ago. Still, the ruins are an evocative sight, and in some places the original decorative mosaic floor still remains. Highly recommended for lovers of ruins. And speaking of the Coliseum, I ended up there at dusk one day – the lights on it had come on, and the sky behind it was this deep dark blue color. I took a photo and to my surprise it came out well. I stayed there about half an hour, watching the sky gradually getting darker and the Coliseum becoming brighter. So beautiful! I can’t believe I didn’t discover this on my previous Rome trips.
Quartiere Coppede – This is a small section of the Parioli district, maybe half a mile east of Galleria Borghese, and not on most tourist maps. It’s a cluster of buildings centered more or less around Piazza Mincio, designed by the eccentric Architect Gino Coppede in the early 1900s. It’s essentially Rome’s version of art nouveau, featuring incredibly elaborate decorative features on a few buildings. I’m finding it impossible to adequately describe it in words, but I took a good number of photos here. So take a look at my Rome photos (link below) if you’re interested. Also, if you google “quartiere coppede” you should easily find the 1987 New York Times piece about this area.
Those were the real highlights. I also made my first visit inside St. Peters. Although certainly worth seeing, I actually prefer a number of Rome’s smaller churches. I think Borromini’s San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane (visited again on my way to Palazzo Barberini) will always be my favorite. And I visited San Giovanni in Laterno, where a choir happened to be singing which completely transfixed me while there....music so beautiful it can make you cry. Next year, I’m looking forward to Sicily, but may well stay in Rome for a night or two on my way home.
Photos from Rome:
Naples trip report:
Photos from Naples:
Photos from Amalfi Coast: