They say “all roads lead to Rome.” Well, this idiom certainly held true for my mother and me last April. Our roads from Skopje, Macedonia, and Onarga, Illinois, USA, led us to rendezvous in Rome one cloudless Spring day. Eleven cities, nine train rides, eight margherita pizzas, thirteen museums, twenty cups of gelato and thirty-something cappuccinos later – we concluded our journey in Paris, France. We had a spectacular five weeks of enjoying la dolce vita where I was able to not only share my love for traveling with my mom but also introduce her to new cultures, foods and my rather “vagabond” lifestyle.
I flew from Macedonia on a red-eye to Rome and my mom landed three hours later via the States. After her arrival, we caught up on news I missed during three months of traveling (nothing much) and hailed a EUR 10 Terravision Bus to central Rome. From the bus station, we were able to walk to our first Airbnb flat located in the Monti neighborhood. We were smack dab in the heart of ancient Rome near the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, Roman Forum, Imperial Forums and Circus Maximus – AND a gelato store downstairs.
Our flat was rather quaint, and though covered in a thick layer of dust, the bed was cozy, the shower water was hot and the kitchen was outfitted with all of the amenities we needed including a complimentary bottle of red wine which didn’t stay corked for too long. Plus, out our wooden-shuttered windows, we had a lovely view of a backyard lemon grove and a laundry adorned fresco across the street.
Rome is a living and breathing outdoor museum. With its piazzas, bubbling fountains, tangled forest of architecture and jumbled array of neighborhoods and ancient sites, the city basically oozes with history and is a captivating mixture of old blended with new. From crumbling frescoes to stunning images of the greatest church on earth, there are powerful reminders that Rome was once the center of the civilized world.
Our first day in Rome: After a brief nap and an alfresco lunch, we were ready to head off for our first adventure in Rome. To begin, we tested our skills at map reading and headed to the afternoon’s first stop, Rome’s Borghese Gallery where we literally immersed ourselves in art, frescoes, marble and more. It was necessary to reserve an entrance time prior to arriving – which I did – and we were able to skip the line and shuttle right in to the heart of Baroque and Renaissance yesteryear.
Touring the Borghese Gallery: The museum’s collections, formed by the ruthless art collector, Cardinal Scipione Borghese, are housed in a magnificent 17th-century villa. Touring the Borghese Gallery and seeing masterpieces by Bernini, Canova, and Caravaggio was simply awe inspiring. Half the time I didn’t know whose works I was admiring – Raphael, Titian, Rubens, Bernini, etc. Luckily the museum provided placards for those of us who forgot this portion of art history. Mom and I used them and sincerely thank whomever took the time to write the descriptions.
Although I used the museum’s cheat sheets, I soon realized that I was seriously lacking some art history essentials. So was my mother. Allow me to drone on and on about my beloved Impressionists (Monet, Van Gogh or Pissarro) and I can talk about my favorite paintings, styles and artists for hours; however, I am ignorant when it comes to Baroque architecture and art. Therefore, in the Borghese – as henceforth across Italy – my Mom and I adopted a technique of tagging along – or shall we say “sneaking” – behind small tour groups and eavesdropping on the tour leaders. Oh that’s why there is a cat in the foreground: It’s actually a symbol of lust and lechery, not just 15th-century furry household companion… which was my first thought.
With our heads bursting with newfound knowledge, we laid on our backs to fully absorb the mastery of the images above us. Along with having antiquities safely guarded in cabinets, Baroque and Renaissance art hanging on the walls and sculptures flooding the hallways and alcoves, each of the twenty rooms also flaunts ornately painted ceilings. Out of these mystical worlds and cotton-candy clouds vaulted plump cherubs and bare-bottomed nymphs. Barrel-chested gods adored long-haired goddesses, shepherds guarded flocks, Madonnas beckoned and bloody battles raged. Some rather erotic and violent stories were being told!
The museums sculptures were equally magnificent. My favorite Bernini sculpture was the swirling Apollo and Daphne. In this magical marble moment, Apollo has been struck by Cupid’s golden arrow and, having fallen in love with the nymph Daphne, he chases her. Daphne, having been struck with the “arrow of disgust” is fleeing and calls out to her father, a River God, to save her. He responds by turning her into a laurel tree. In the sculpture, you can see Daphne’s hands morphing into leaves as she is being transformed.
Another one that caught my attention was this one of Pluto and Persephone, also by Bernini. In this story, Bernini presents the classical story of the abduction of Persephone. Pluto, the king of the underworld, has fallen in love with Persephone, the daughter of Jupiter and Ceres. Pluto catches Persephone and tries to carry her away to the underworld. I love the strength of character and emotion that is captured here.
And then there were more cherubs, of course, and more visitors tumbling from the spiritual world. Once we had our fill of angels and half-clothed secular beings, we moseyed beyond the museum and ventured into the pretty gardens. Outside of the Borghese Gallery lies the Villa Borghese Gardens, Rome’s “Central Park” where the young frolic and lovers walk hand-in-hand. We walked down to one of Rome’s main streets near the Palazzo del Quirinale, found a cute sidewalk cafe with checkered table clothes and dug into our first real “Italian” dinner. I much preferred my carafe of wine (EUR 5) rather than the obviously heated-up version of mushroom risotto, but….oh well! On a side note, my mother and I soon found that these carafes of red house wine were quite enjoyable – and cheap – across all of Italy and we no doubt took advantage of them on many occasions.
First impressions of Rome: I loved these first experiences in Italy! I adored the bread shops, delis and cafes on every corner (sometimes three or four in a row) and I enjoyed the vivacious, friendly and laid-back Italian culture. I especially appreciated the cityscapes and hidden charms stretched along Romes’s alleys and backstreets. During the remainder of our trip, both my mom and I became obsessed with taking photos of wooden shutters, flower-adorned doorways and bicycles. Be warned! (But really, how could I resist when they are this pretty?)Up next: our tour through Ancient Rome including the Colosseum, Capitoline Hill and the Roman Forum in which I realize just how touristy Italy actually is and eagerly await Russell Crowe’s appearance in all his leather and armor-bedazzled glory.