Churches and Crypts

There are more than 900 churches in Rome most Catholic but not all.  Of these, there are four major basilicas in the city which fall under the direct supervision of the Pope – Basilica of St. John Lateran (Also the seat of the Bishop of Rome) Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, Basilica of Saint Paul, and St. Peter’s. Visiting any one of these many churches will provide you with a crash course in history, architecture and art.   Some of my favorites are listed below with a short rationale of why.  You could live your entire life in Rome and not visit all of these remarkable structures. If you find yourself walking past a church and the doors are open I encourage you to go inside – you never know what you will discover.  Everything from Bernini sculptures to Caravaggio paintings to some interesting relics are housed within these houses of worship.

Crypt of Balbi – you can see in detail the layers of Roman civilization from the earliest days through the Middle Ages and Renaissance.  It is like one big layer cake that you get to walk through and actually see and touch the layers.  Also very near to the Largo Argentina where Caesar is reputed to have been assassinated.

Santa Cecilia in Trestevere – Somewhat out of the way this church was built over the upper class home of it’s namesake.  Be sure to tour the excavations under the church.

San Luigi dei Francesi – Near the Piazza Navona and the Pantheon this church houses three spectacular Caraviaggio paintings, among which include the Calling of Saint Matthew, one of his most powerful works.

Santa Maria sopra Minerva – The only gothic church in Rome.  I recommend visiting late in the afternoon when the setting sun is directly in front of the entrance.  Before entering, take your picture in front of the famous Bernini  baby elephant carrying an obelisk. Among the many notable works of art inside is a wonderful sculpture by Michelangelo, a muscular Christ Bearing the Cross.

via Churches and Crypts.

Day Tripping – Rome to Florence

View of Duomo from San Miniato
View of Duomo from San Miniato al Monte, Florence, 2012

There are many day trips to nearby towns and cities that you can take from Rome.  Florence, Frascati, Tivoli, and Ostia Antica are among some of my favorites.  Taking the high speed Frecciarossa (Red Arrow) or Frecciargento (Silver Arrow) from Roma Termini Station to Firenze located just under 300 km to the northwest from downtown Rome, takes 90 minutes.  Italy’s high speed trains are a great way to travel, comfortable and ultra modern,   maximizing your time.

Among Florence’s many treasures are Michelangelo’s David, Brunelleschi’s Duomo, and Masaccio’s frescoes of Adam and Eve. Depending on how much time and energy you have it is possible to see all three.  I recommend buying tickets to the Galleria dell’Accademia (David) and the church of Santa Maria del Carmine (Adam and Eve frescoes) in advance to avoid long lines and wasting valuable time.

View of San Miniato From Boboli Gardens, Florence, 2013
View of San Miniato al Monte From Boboli Gardens, Florence, 2013

One of my favorite itineraries for a day in Florence includes arriving at Santa Maria Novella Station and taking a taxi up to San Miniato al Monte for an incredible view of the city. From the basilica walk the short distance to Piazzale Michaelangelo for another incredible view of the Tuscan valley.  From the piazzale look for the stair case at the northwest corner and wind your way down the footpath past the Giardino delle Rose, a hidden gem, to the old city gate at Piazzetta San Miniato.  From this point you can wander toward Ponte alle Grazie and cross the bridge from the oltrarno, “beyond the Arno”, quarter of the city into the historic center of the city toward Santa Crocce.   This is about a two and one half hour walk of incredible vista’s which allows you to avoid large crowds and plenty of time to visit some of the major attractions.  As you wander this particularly beautiful corner of Firenze stop to enjoy a caffe, browse some of the incredible shops, and take as many pictures as you can. You will remember this city for the rest of your life!!

Room with a View, Friends on Their Terrace, Florence, 2013
Room with a View, Friends on Their Terrace, Florence, 2013

How Many Obelisks Are There in Rome? – Creating Your Own Walking Tour

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, Rome 2012My favorite obelisk is located in front of Santa Maria sopra Minerva near the Pantheon

As many times as I have been to the eternal city I have never seen all thirteen obelisks (8 ancient egyptian and 5 ancient roman) – Rome harbors the most obelisks in the world.   If you are looking for an adventure for yourself, for visitors, or for your family,  setting out to see all of the obelisks is one of the best.

Many times throughout my stay in Rome I would think about something that I was interested in: Bernini statues, Caravaggio paintings, fountains, remnants of the ancient aqueducts, places in Rome featured in movies – and then I would set off to see as many of them as I could.  This is a great way to learn about the history of the city, become more familiar with the city, and discover all sorts of new favorite destinations.

Create your own walking tour!!

Renting a Car in Italy – Some Practical Advice

Tivoli, 2009Tivoli, 2009

If your plans have you headed to Italy for more than two weeks I would recommend that you consider renting a car and take advantage of a few driving adventures.  A wonderful article in the travel section of the New York TImes, that I often recommend, about the ins and outs of renting cars abroad is included in this post.

One of the best pieces of advice I can give is to book your rental car through the country website for the rental company of choice.  For example go to hertz.it vs. hertz.com.  Most large companies with international locations will allow you to choose the language you wish use on the site making it very easy.  You will often save 30% simply by doing this. The second piece of advice – know which credit card you will be using prior to booking and have a full understanding of the coverage your bank provides on rental cars outside of the U.S.   Note the related article about IDP’s below.  I have never been asked for anything other than my US drivers license.

Lastly enjoy the experience – driving through the hills of Tuscany or along the Amalfi Coast is a memory that you will keep for life and well worth the effort.

Day Tripping – Rome to Tivoli

Villa d'este Fall 2013Large Fountain, Villa d’Este, Tivoli, 2012

There are many day trips to nearby towns and cities that you can take from Rome.  Florence, Frascati, Tivoli, and Ostia Antica are among some of my favorites.  Taking the train from Roma Termini Station to Tivoli, located about 30 km to the northeast from downtown Rome, takes about 45 minutes. As the train pulls out of the station and moves into the country you see parts of the city you normally wouldn’t experience and finally as you climb the gently curving hills toward Tivoli you can look forward to beautiful vistas including some waterfalls.

Among Tivoli’s many treasures are Villa d’Este and Villa Adriana (Hadrian’s Villa).  Both exceptional in what they have to offer.  If you have to choose, Villa d’Este, would be my choice for the exquisite fountains, vistas, and greenery. (NOTE: Villa d’Este and Villa Adriana are closed on Mondays)

Upon arriving at the Tivoli Train station walk downhill on  Viale Giuseppe Mazzini.  When you arrive at the traffic circle, round the circle to your right, and stop at Il Ciocco for an espresso. From the back of the bar you can look down upon Villa Gregoriana.  From here you can follow the signs to Villa d’Este and enjoy your walk up into this ancient town.

Hills with a View – Climb One!

View of the Vatican from the Aventine HillView of the Vatican from Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill, Rome, 2012

Within the ancient walls of Rome are the Seven Hills upon which the city was built – Aventine, Caelian, Capitoline, Esquiline, Palatine, Quirinial, and Viminal.  In addition there are many other hills outside the walls of the historic center – Cispian, Janiculium, Monte Mario, Oppian, Pinican, Vatican, and Velian.  All of them offer spectacular views and I encourage anyone visiting Rome to take the time to climb one or more.  One of my favorites is the Aventine.  There you can enjoy one of the best views of the city as well as the church of Santa Sabina, mother church for the order of Dominicans.  I recommend approaching the hill from the north near the Circus Maximus and departing down the hill toward Via Marmorata. Time permitting visit Vopetti and the Protestant Cemetery.  You can spend an entire day in this rione (Ripa)

Walking the Via Appia Antica

Visiting the Appia Antica Rome, 2007David, Kimi, and Joe in front of one of the many imperial monuments lining the Appia Antica

It must be the romantic in me that brings me back to this ancient and oft travelled road whenever I visit Rome.  You could spend weeks walking along this stretch of highway dating back to 312 BC and referred to as “the queen of the long roads”.  You can still see grooves worn in the stones by years of chariot traffic.  While I highly recommend you visit I also highly recommend that you plan your visit as there are many options and you can end up frustrated, tired, and dusty if you wing it.  Generally I recommend 2 to 3 hours actually walking along the Appian Way not including getting to and from the park.  This will leave you time to tour one of the Catacombs that allow visitors.

Below are some good links to help you plan to enjoy this amazing park and make the most of your visit.

Official Website of the Parco Appia Antica

Recommended Reading – The Appian Way – Ghost Road, Queen of Roads

Christian Catacombs of Rome

Amalfi Coast – Positano

Positano Harbor, Amalfi Coast, 2013 View of Positano Harbor from Hotel Poseidon, Amalfi Coast, 2013

Of all the places in Italy that I have had the good fortune to visit the Amalfi Coast is the one place that I most often think about.  There are not enough adjectives to describe the beauty of the convergence of the sea and the coastline. Easily reached by car via the Autostrada Del Sole “Motorway of the Sun” (A1) or taking the train from Rome to Naples and then taking a bus or taxi to the Amalfi Coast.  If you drive you will definitely put a few notches on your drivers license as the combination of switchback roads and deathwish motorcyclists is something you have to experience for yourself.

Beyond the seaside towns of Sorrento, Positano,  Ravello and Amalfi there are several other destinations I would recommend – Capri and Paestum being two of my favorites.

Positano, Amalfi Coast, 2013Positano, Amalfi Coast, 2013

The best way to enjoy this part of Italy is by boat and there are many options from water taxis to private charters.   I highly recommend considering renting a boat and spending the day with Barbara and Antonio local residents and two of the most charming people you could hope to meet.   They are both very knowledgable about the history of the area and by boat can take you to some of the most spectacular grottos, coves, waterfalls, out of the way restaurants, and islands in the area.  Barbara Tours Positano (Boat Charters)

Boating from Positano to Capri
Boating from Positano to Capri with Barbara and Antonio, Amalfi Coast, 2011