[ < < previous | index | next >> ]
We are in our apartment for a bit of a rest and to shower and change to meet Tony for dinner at his hotel later this evening. We spent today travelling out into the countryside around Rome to see the UNESCO World Heritage site of Villa d'Este at the hilltop town of Tivoli. This is perhaps the best preserved Renaissance villa in Italy, with many interesting paintings and decorations inside the main building, a stunning view across vast swathes of the Lazio countryside, and absolutely magnificent gardens.
Our day started with breakfast. I rose at about 06:30 after again waking early. M. snoozed until about 07:30. We walked across town to Spagna Metro station again, taking a different route this time for variety after first visiting the bakery to get some small bread rolls for snacks. We got the same size as last night's dinner rolls, but the ones with nuts in them. We bought eight, which, together with the biscuits from the supermarket yesterday and a large apple each, we hoped would do us for lunch on the go. M. stopped in at a bar near Piazza di Spagna for a cappuccino, and then we were primed for our day out.
The Lonely Planet said the best way to get to Tivoli was to buy a Zone 3 regional transport ticket valid for the day, which would get us out to Ponte Mammolo on the Metro, and then on to a bus run by the company Cotral to take us to Tivoli. So I asked for two such tickets at the Metro biglietteria, but the guy there rattled off a string of Italian which I didn't understand. When I said I spoke English, he said I could only buy those tickets at Termini or Lepanto. So I bought two single trip tickets to get us as far as Termini, and we hopped on the train.
The trains here tend to be very crowded, with people often standing shoulder to shoulder. You can see why pickpockets have a splendid time with the tourists on the trains. We are wary and keep a hand on our valuables, and have never had any trouble with thieves on any of our travels. The crowded morning commuter train dropped us at Termini, where hordes of people scuttled to and fro in a carefully orchestrated dance that sent them all speeding on their various ways efficiently through the maze of tunnels and interconnecting train lines that converge at that station. We emerged from the Metro tunnels into the bustling hive of the above-ground trains that connect Rome to various other cities around Italy.
I checked what I thought would be the right place to buy the regional tickets: the automatic ticket machines on the ground floor. However these turned out to only be selling tickets on the Ferrovia del Stato trains to other cities. We decided to try a tabacchi and wandered into the concourse of Termini, where there are dozens of shops. We actually spotted a newsagent which sold tickets of some sort, and asked there. The man told me to go to the tabacchi around the corner (which we hadn't spotted). There, there was a woman in a dedicated window just selling tickets, and a sign indicated the regional tickets we wanted. So I asked for two Zone 3 regional tickets, but the woman then asked me where we wanted to go. I said Tivoli, figuring she must have wanted confirmation that Zone 3 was correct for us. She then gave me two train tickets to Tivoli, instead of the regional passes I'd asked for! They cost less, but we had no idea what train would go to Tivoli or if it would stop anywhere near where we wanted to be when we got there. By the time we had absorbed all of this, there was a queue of about twenty people waiting to buy tickets, so we couldn't easily start another conversation with the woman about the wrong tickets. We pondered a moment, then got on the end of the queue. When our turn came again, I presented the tickets she'd sold us, and held out the Lonely Planet, pointing to where it said Zone 3 regional tickets. She silently got the right tickets for us, took back the wrong ones, and charged me the difference.
With that sorted, we walked back down into the warren of Metro tunnels to catch our first line B train to Ponte Mammolo. This train was considerably older, more decrepit, and graffiti-covered than the line A trains. It was crowded, but thinned out quickly as it headed away from the city centre and towards the outskirts. We emerged at Ponte Mammolo, which was a huge train-bus interchange, with buses on both sides of the station. We saw the blue Cotral buses on the north side, but they looked parked and there was nothing like a departure bus stop. On the south side of the station were several departing buses, but all of different companies. I asked at a news stand where the Cotral buses for Tivoli depart, and the man tried explaining in Italian, but had to switch to broken English when I failed to understand. It turned out the north side of the station was Cotral arrivals at ground level, and departures on an upper level.
There we joined a group of 20 or 30 people waiting at a bus bay for what a TV there indicated would be a 09:50 bus for Tivoli. The time was 09:45, so it didn't look to be too long a wait. However, as the minutes ticked by, no bus showed up. And as the clock ticked over to 09:51, the departure time for the bus changed from 09:50 to 10:00! Meanwhile, more people joined the waiting group. We were standing in the sun and decided to move up the group a bit to a shaded spot, which helped alleviate the warmth. Again the minutes ticked by, and when 10:00 arrived, still no sign of a bus. The clock moved on to 10:01, and the departure time changed again, to 10:10! By now there were maybe 40 people waiting for the bus. The minutes dragged on... and eventually a bus appeared. We thought we were in a good position near the front of the group, but when the bus pulled up, a door opened in the middle and people began piling on in a disorganised muddle with no thought of orderly queuing. A door also opened at the front, and we were caught right in between the two choices. We elected to go for the front, but were now stuck near the back of the group. In front of us was an old couple who took ages climbing on to the bus; meanwhile, the people getting in the rear door were filling up the entire bus. The rear group vanished into the bus while the front door was still queued up. So we ran to the back door and piled on, finding it to be cramped standing room only by now.
The bus pulled out and took a route through typical looking outer suburbs, full of car dealers and more modern looking residential flats made of bricks, then into an industrial area with factories and various things. Initially the bus stopped at a few stops and more people piled on at each one, despite it looking like no more could fit. I was reminded of the Weird Al Yankovic song "Another One Rides the Bus". Eventually though people started getting off, and about 20 minutes into the journey we managed to get a seat in the back row, which made things more comfortable. At one place as we passed through a small town I spotted some conspicuous posters stuck to a wall, advertising a Queen tribute band named Regina, with a large photo of the cheesiest looking Freddie Mercury impersonator you could imagine, with a moustache looking like a caricature of the real thing.
Slowly the bus emerged into a rural landscape, with fields of grass dotted with patches of wildflowers: red poppies, plus some yellow and purple flowers. We passed through several clusters of buildings, and then right through the middle of a huge quarry that lined both sides of the road for a kilometre or two. It looked like they were cutting blocks of limestone or marble. Dust from the quarry made breathing annoying as we drove through. A few minutes later we entered a region of small, discrete hills, and we could see towns atop a couple of them. Then straight ahead was the hill town of Tivoli, and the bus wound its way up a winding road to the top.
At one stop all the tourists began piling out of the bus, so we followed, then the bus pulled away to continue further up the hill with only a few passengers on board. We hoped we'd gotten off the at the right place, and confirmed this by spotting a sign indicating the way to walk to Villa d'Este. While following the other tourists slowly, we ate our apples, since the time was now about 11:00.
A short walk revealed a small piazza with a bizarre fountain that looked like a giant marble bust with the top half of the head sliced cleanly off at eye level. On one side were some touristy eateries with touts standing around handing out advertising leaflets, and on the other were a church with an impressive brick tower, and the entrance to Villa d'Este. There were a couple of groups of school kids waiting around, but no queues of people waiting to get in. We walked straight in to the ticket office and bought our entry tickets, then went into the villa. As it turned out, nobody ever checked our tickets, and it was possible to walk straight into the villa without going into the ticket office at all, without passing any sort of gate or staff member and without being seen from the ticket office!
View over the gardens of Villa d'Este
The interior of the villa looked interesting, but we decided to go quickly through and out into the gardens first, to tackle them before the day warmed up too much. The villa and its gardens spilled down the side of the hill, such that we entered from the piazza in to the top floor of the villa, went down to another floor of the building, then emerged on to a balcony overlooking the gardens, with steps leading down from there into the garden.
This was a stunning example of Renaissance garden architecture, with mirrored paths zig-zagging down the slope between steps leading down the centre and flanks, all lined by hedges and fountains, with numerous flowers, trees, and small lawns. On the sides were different large fountains, grottoes, statues, and so on, many of which were very impressive in their own right. The fountains in particular were amazing, and moreso by the fact that they were completely gravity powered, with no pumps anywhere, and had been so for the past few hundred years. Some sprayed water up five or six metres into the air. Another wonder was the row of a hundred fountains, a horizontal path traversing the width of the gardens, with a hundred individual carved faces spilling water into a long trough. This was a very photogenic spot, and dozens of people were posing for photos beside the trough, with the photographer looking down the long row of fountains. But the lighting here was very harsh, with the fountains in gloomy green shade, surrounded by glistening white marble in full sunshine.
Grand Fountain of Villa d'Este
The big trees were cypresses, twisted and gnarled by age. Amidst them were hundreds of roses of different breeds and colours, plus beautiful irises. As the garden reached the lower slopes it levelled out, giving room for three enormous fish ponds. On one side there was a terrace overlooking the view out across the Lazio countryside. There were quite a lot of people in the gardens, including several school groups, but they were big enough that you could find moments of solitude among the trees and fountains. On the terrace with the view, a guy was taking photos of some other guys, which I knew would turn out badly because the people in the foreground were backlit and very dark against the bright landscape in the background. I heard them speaking English, so suggested helpfully that his photo would probably turn out better if he turned the flash on (to provide some foreground fill light). The guy looked at me like I was deluded and said sarcastically, "Oh right, using the flash will really help." I guess he figured it was daylight, so the flash was useless. Oh well, I tried to help.
The Hundred Fountains of Villa d'Este
We munched on the nutty bread rolls and the little biscuits that we'd bought. The biscuits turned out to be salty rather than the sweet we'd expected, kind of like pretzels, but that was okay since the nutty bread was slightly sweet.
After a leisurely look at most the garden, we climbed the long way back up the hillside to the villa building. This was laid out on two floors basically with a row of nine or ten connected rooms all overlooking the gardens, with a hallway along the back side away from the gardens, and with staircases at either end, one a large conventional staircase, the other a spiral. The rooms were bare of furniture and a bit stark and concretey, but decorated by painted frescoes on the walls and ceilings that were moderately impressive. The paint had faded with time, but the designs were still beautiful, with various scenes that changed depending on the purpose of the room. For example, the hunting room had hunting scenes, while other rooms had depictions of classical gods, or pastoral scenes. The building was not as impressive as the gardens though, and we finished perusing the two dozen or so rooms fairly quickly.
Ceiling of Villa d'Este
When we left the villa, it was about 13:30. We had to locate the bus stop where we could catch a bus back to Rome. Out on the street, we looked in both directions, but didn't see anything obvious. As we were looking, a bus came past and stopped about 50 metres down the road past us, where a group of people were waiting. The bus was packed, and more people piled on, so we didn't race to catch it, figuring it might be better to wait a little bit. However there were still dozens of people waiting at the bus stop and when another bus with "Rome" on the destination sign came along in a couple of minutes, they all raced to the doors and the front few crammed on to this jam-packed bus. Again we were left stranded. This scene repeated once again a few minutes later, with more waiting people squashing into yet another bus that when it arrived already looked so full that you wouldn't be able to fit any more people on. And still there were twenty or more people left behind at the bus stop, waiting.
The next couple of buses that arrived were less full, but their destination indicators had places other than Rome listed. However, apparently most of the people waiting for buses were happy with those destinations and the crowd thinned out substantially. Still waiting with us were an older tourist couple, who had actually been waiting at the stop when we arrived. Another bus came, with Rome marked as the final destination, but I'd noticed that all of these Rome buses had different intermediate stops listed. But figuring we'd get to Rome either way, we managed to pile on to this one, with the older couple. Only once we were on board did we notice that the bus seemed entirely full of teenagers. I guessed maybe they were going home from school, although it seemed a bit early in the afternoon for that.
The bus took us, standing, down the hill of Tivoli, but then turned off the main road we'd come in on. It started taking a winding series of narrow streets through the town at the bottom of the hill, then emerged into green countryside a lot more rural looking than any of the landscape we'd passed through before. Judging by the sun, it seemed we were heading west, away from Rome! At various stops, some of the teenagers got off and eventually we secured a seat near the back, as did the older couple. At one point we went along a tiny narrow lane through the countryside, climbing up a shallow hill until we emerged in a tiny piazza around which was nestled a settlement no larger than a village. Here the bus stopped and a couple of people got on, then it did a circle of the piazza and left by the same lane it had come in on, and wended its way back down the hill. But now at least we'd turned around and were heading east towards Rome!
The journey continued through tiny rural villages for some time. I got out my iPad and checked my Rome map. Fortunately, the map extended as far as Tivoli, and the GPS successfully located us on it. By this time we had actually returned to a distance about as far from Rome as Tivoli, but further south. I followed the slow progress of the bus on the map as we continued. As the teenagers drifted off at various stops, I could see the older couple getting agitated, as this trip was now taking considerably longer than the trip out from Ponte Mammolo, and there was no sign we were anywhere but lost in the countryside. They went up to speak to the driver, who presumably reassured them that yes, the bus was going to Rome. I could see the route it was going to take, along a minor road parallel to the larger road we'd taken out.
Eventually the bus emptied of the teenagers and we were left with just the older couple and a handful of other people who'd gotten on along the way. The bus arrived at Ponte Mammolo a good hour and a half or more after we'd left Tivoli, almost twice as long as the journey out. We got off and headed into the Metro station to catch a train back to Termini. One arrived soon and though it wasn't full, the few seats were occupied, so we stood for the nine stops of the trip. We switched back to line A for the hop to Spagna and walked back to our apartment. Along the way we stopped briefly to look into the Chiesa San Lorenzo in Lucina, which we walked right past. This was starting to be baroque church overload, and it looked very similar in style to many of the others we'd seen. The Lonely Planet mentioned to look for a marble bust by Bernini and the crucifixion painting by Guido Reni, which we would have missed otherwise.
Chiesa San Lorenzo in Lucina
Along the way we stopped at a phone to call the Museo Borghese to book tickets to see this art gallery. Unfortunately, the lady who answered the call said there were no spots available until 9 May, which is after we leave for Venice. So we are unable to go see that this time around. I guess that leaves us something big for next time we're in Rome!
Closer to home, we stopped in at Grom for gelato. The queue was mercifully short with about five people waiting, so I leapt at the chance to see what the fuss was about. While waiting, I read the flavour board, which boasted examples such as vanilla made with Madagascan beans, caramel with rose coloured salt from the Himalayas, and extra dark chocolate with chocolate pieces made from a specific sort of cocoa bean from Colombia. I asked for a large cup in Italian, and the guy asked me back in flawless, unaccented English, "Would you like some cream on that as well?" He was really polite and friendly, and the service was excellent, but he never spoke a word of Italian to me, despite me ordering the "cioccolato extranoir, liquirizia, e caramello con sale, per favore". The flavours were all really, really good. The chocolate was not sweet, but not really bitter; it must have had just enough sugar to counteract the bitterness of the cocoa without making it sweet. The liquorice was intense. But my favourite was the caramel. And I don't even like caramel much normally.
Back home we had time to shower and relax for a bit before heading out to meet Tony at his hotel for dinner. We walked across town to Barberini, where the Hotel Daphne was located. We didn't see a sign, but Tony was standing outside to meet us, which was lucky because the signage was limited to a small brass plaque beside the door, easily overlooked. Tony in fact said he'd missed it himself and gone into the hotel next door when looking for it on arrival. He showed us his room quickly, which was very nice, then we went looking for a place to have dinner. We waked up Via Vittorio Veneto, which Tony said had lots of fancy hotels and some nice looking restaurants. The hotels were very fancy indeed, with doormen wearing tails and that sort of thing. And the restaurants turned out to be fancier than Tony had realised, and not to our rather more pedestrian liking. So we kept walking, turning left at Villa Borghese and down the hill towards Piazza di Spagna.
A bit south of the piazza we found a promising looking place and went inside. It was named Lorel in the World. I presume Lorel was the angel on the logo. There was a danger of it being too touristy, so close to a prime tourist spot, but it seemed fairly genuine and didn't offer pizzas on the menu. Tony went for the roast lamb, while I chose a steak fillet with mixed mushrooms and M. got a penne all'arrabbiata. We also ordered the "big mix of vegetables" as the amusing English translation on the menu called it, and some roast potatoes. Tony had a glass of house red while M. and I went for just sparkling mineral water tonight. The meal took some time to arrive, but when it did it was all good. While waiting, we'd seen a waitress collecting a delicious looking bunch of vegetables from a tempting display at the front, which I thought was for an antipasto plate for some other diners. It turned out it was actually to make up our mixed vegetable plate, which came back out of the kitchen hot. It contained eggplant parmigiana pieces, roasted red capsicum, zucchini strings, tiny carrot slices, fried onions, green beans, roast potato pieces, and something green and string-like that none of us recognised. The carrots in particular were really nice, and I'm not a big fan of carrots. With that and the extra plate of roast potato pieces, we had plenty of veges to go with our meals. We declined to get dessert, but Tony had an espresso and M. had a macchiato caldo.
Spanish Steps at night
After that we bade farewell to Tony and walked up to the Spanish Steps to take some night photos with my new tripod. After taking a couple, I walked up the steps to take a few shots from halfway up. A younger couple were there posing for photos for one another and asked me to take a shot of the both of them, handing me an EOS 60D. I had to fiddle with the exposure a bit to get something workable, but then they asked if I would mind doing it on my tripod. So I put the mounting plate on their camera, set it up, and took some shots, but the focus on their camera was misbehaving and I'm not sure I got a really good shot of them. This took some time, so eventually I just had to hand their camera back. Then while I was taking some other snaps of my own, the girl came back to me and asked if I'd touched any other controls or erased any of their photos. She showed me the photos on the camera and there were only 8 or 9 of them, all taken there on the Steps within the past few minutes. She looked distraught and wondered where the rest of her photos had gone, but there was nothing I could do but reassure her I hadn't erased any photos. I'm not sure if she believed me or not, but they left shaking their heads at their camera as they reviewed the shots on it. I really hope they'd done something silly like just changed their memory card and forgotten they'd done it; I'd hate for them to have really lost any photos.
Trevi Fountain at night
We left the Steps and walked back home via the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon. The Fountain was busy, but not ridiculously so, and we could have easily gone down to the edge of it and tossed a coin in, but we decided to hold that off for closer to when we leave Rome. It was about 23:00 by this time, and it looked as if the crowds were just starting to thin out, with everyone eating gelato as they wandered back to wherever they were staying. We got a couple of quick shots of the Pantheon and also some street scenes at night, then made it home to turn in.
[ < < previous | index | next >> ]