Tuesday: Laundry Day and a visit to the Capuchin Crypt

Today, we had what Greg calls a “make and mend” day. We were not meeting Jose, as one of his cousins from Miami is in town, and I hope they are off eating and drinking and being merry. We certainly have been.


We had no particular time to be up and about, so we slept in….until 10:30. What decadence! We finally got moving and had cereal at home and started laundry. Jose thought we were lucky to have a washer in the apartment. I was surprised because there was no dryer. I need not have worried. A few minutes on the terrace on the clothes rack, and our things were dry, dry, dry.

Genene has been wanting to souvenir shop, and we needed to visit the ATM so we headed over to the Pantheon area. We strolled passed the Trevi Fountain and watched the crowds. Greg and I each got cash from the ATM, and we stopped in every junky trinket shop between the Pantheon and our apartment. We found one nice shop filled with wines, cheeses and kitchen items, and I got a bottle of Chianti that I am anxious to try. We also bought some “typical Roman pecorino cheese” and it is sharp and delicious. Genene has not seen exactly what she wants yet, but there is plenty of time. What she really wants are two toys that are sold by the gypsies on the Spanish Steps. One is a helicopter-like object that shoots high into the air and blinks its rainbow-colored lights. The other is some kind of gel toy that the Romas throw to the ground. It makes a squeaky groaning sound and splatters flat, and then begins to reconstitute itself. Genene is fascinated with them. So far I have refused to buy them because I hate dealing with street vendors. I am suspicious of them. In the end, I am sure she will win out, but I will end up dealing with the gypsies.
We walked back to our apartment and bought a sandwich from a shop on our block. This is our second visit there, and I predict we will become regulars. The sandwiches are economical and spare, yet delicious. Most of them have no more than four ingredients: toasted flat bread with some kind of meat, cheese, spread, and greens. The staff is very friendly and English-speaking, and the sandwich comes wrapped in white paper, suitable for walking down the street with while taking a munch. They are yummy. We see lots of Italians eating the sandwiches too, so I think they are fairly authentic.
After a short break at the apartment, we headed out for our only adventure of the day, a visit to see the Capuchin crypt. What a truly creepy experience!
The Capuchins are a branch of Franciscan monks. They wear the dark brown robes and hood (cappuccio), for which the coffee drink is named. The crypt is located below the church known as Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. In 1631, a cardinal ordered the Capuchin friars' bones to be buried here, and thousands of skeletons were relocated to the crypt. According to legend, it is unknown who came up with the idea to arrange their bones. One theory is that it was the monks themselves. Another theory is that it was a person ordered to do penance (or imprisoned) down below. Whoever it was was one twisted brother. The bones are arranged artistically and elaborately in several different rooms with clever names like Crypt of the Resurrection, Crypt of the Skulls, Crypt of the Pelves, Crypt of the Leg Bones and Thigh Bones and

Crypt of the Three Skeletons. A sign (now translated into five languages) ominously warns:

“What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be…”

Genene was absolutely enthralled. Greg and I were spooked. It is a truly bizarre place. We have been to the catacombs in Paris, and the bones there are stacked in much greater magnitute, in the millions as opposed to this crypt of 4,000 friars' bones. However, the Capuchins have the Parisians beat by a country mile in the macabre, artistic department. These bones are arranged in intricate patterns on the walls and the ceilings. There are even chandeliers made of bones. The crypt is first noted in literature by the Marquis de Sade in 1775, so folks have been staring in macabre fascination at this place since before Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne was also intrigued by the place,” and Mark Twain wrote of it in “Innocents Abroad.”

Photography was not allowed in the crypt, so I bought some postcards and took photos of them so I could share. Everything you see in the photos is made of human bone. As Genene said, “Awesome! And freaky!”

Well, after something like that, everyone needed a stiff drink. We headed across the street and sat at an outdoor cafe and watched the world go by. Genene had a fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, while I had a glass of red wine and Greg enjoyed a cold beer.

We watched as a young man pushed his woman up the hill on some kind of bicycle contraption. Chivalry lives.


We laughed about how dirty Genene's new Crocs have gotten in the Rome soot and grime.

We marveled at the narrow streets that accommodate the cars, Vespas and people.

We strolled over to the Spanish Steps and watched the people.

I love to see the Italian men all dressed up like peacocks, strutting their stuff.

Genene ran up and down the steps like a wild thing.


All the books speak of the “golden light” that appears at the end of the Roman day. It really exists.


I watched my daughter drink out of the fountain, just like a Roman would.

It was a good day.

Monday: Villa Farnesina, The Mouth of Truth, Tiber Island, the Jewish Ghetto and finally…the Magic

It was another exhausting day in Rome, but at least we avoided some of yesterday's pitfalls. We are finding it easiest to catch a taxi to our meeting place with Jose. There is a cab stand very close to our apartment, and we have always found them ready and waiting. It's a little more expensive than using public transportation, but it's a good way to get exactly where you want to go quickly and without the threat of pickpockets. Traffic is crazy in Rome, but the cab drivers are masters. They seem to make lanes where there are none. They dodge pedestrians, buses, and motorcycles with ease. It's scary as all-get-out for us, but it's all in a day's work for them. Genene is either jaded or ignorant, because she nods off almost every time we get in the cab, while Greg and I hold on for dear life with white knuckles.

This morning, Jose suggested that we meet at Villa Farnesina to see the frescoes of Raphael. Given to our own devices, Greg and I would never have chosen this venue, and we would have missed so much. It is a beautiful place, and perhaps best of all, it is not crowded. Art can be observed and lingered over, as it was meant to be.


The villa was commissioned during the Renaissance by a Sienese banker name Agostino Chigi. Like most rich people, he wanted to show off, and the interior is richly decorated with frescoes. One of the rooms, the Loggia of Galatea, shows all of the astrological signs as they were on Chigi's birthday. Talk about your ego. I borrowed a fish-eye camera lens from a friend (thanks, Bryan), and it is a very handy tool to give you an idea about the size and intricacy of the ceilings.


Genene was intrigued by the story of the beautiful nymph Galatea, shown below with her entourage.

The one-eyed giant Polyphemus took one look at her and fell in love, but she wasn't interested. It's tough be be a giant. Below is the fresco of him, looking to his left at the fresco of Galatea.

In addition to the zodiac and the story of Galatea, there were other mythological events being depicted in various smaller hexagrams. One of Genene's favorites was Hercules battling a lion, bare-handed (and bare-butted). Look out for those claws, Herc!

In the next room is The Loggia of Cupid and Psyche, also painted by Raphael. It tells the story of Cupid falling in love with the mortal Psyche and all the trials and tribulations they went through before the happy-marriage ending. (That's where the fun really starts!) Jose had promised us that he enjoyed mythology and would teach Genene, and his stories helped to bring the pictures to life for her. The room is beside the gardens and is intended to evoke the effect of garlands and tapestries. Below is the broad view.

And one close-up follows. This entire fresco had an erotic sub-text. Can you spot the male and female “members” in the garland? (Hint: sometimes, a carrot isn't just a carrot.)

I wish I could just keep showing these frescoes because they are truly beautiful. What we really enjoyed is that there were NO crowds here, just a few people wandering in and out. It was a great way to look at art, with a passionate guide to make it all real for us.

We came back to the apartment, and in true Roman fashion, we had lunch and took a long siesta. It is brutally hot in midday, so it pays to sleep through it all and come back in the late day. We woke up just in time to meet up with Jose for the afternoon walk. We were to start at a place that had captured Genene's imagination since she heard about it, The Mouth of Truth.

We always try to watch some movies to get ourselves in the mood for a vacation, and of course, one of my old favorites was “Roman Holiday.” (Who wouldn't want to get on the back of a Vespa with Gregory Peck?) Genene watched it too and was intrigued. If you have never seen the movie and want to see the Mouth of Truth scene, you can check it out through the magic of You Tube by clicking here. The Bocca della Verita is located in the entryway of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. Legend has it that if you are a liar and you stick your hand into the mouth, your hand will be bitten off. Genene was very excited, but she insisted that I go first. I made it out fine, proving that the thing is defective.

It was Genene's turn next, and she got very apprehensive. She made her dad come stand beside her, and it took a lot of persuading to get this shot. In the end, she cried a little bit because she was disappointed that she was too scared to put her hand all the way in. I think she got close enough, but we may have to go back.

Greg stuck his hand down almost as far as Gregory Peck, and he made it out too.

Jose was waiting for us inside the church, where we wiped Genene's tears, laughed a little and gathered ourselves for a walk.

We went by the Temple of Hercules, the Circus Maximus, the Jewish Ghetto, Tiber Island, and on and on and on. Again, the words fail me. It is too much. I will simply show you some of the shots I got during our little stroll.

We said goodbye to Jose and caught a cab back to our apartment. Tomorrow will be a free day, for which we are grateful. We need some down time to do laundry, sleep late, relax and process what we have seen.

Tonight, we went to a pizza place in the neighborhood suggested by Jose, and it was wonderful. The pizzas are made with a very thin crispy crust, and the ingredients are simple and delicious. We enjoyed it, but it had been a long day and we were grumpy with each other and ready to go to bed. It was then that the magic happened.

Our apartment is very near the Spanish Steps, so we stroll by them a lot. As we walked up Via Condotti, we could hear the music. I could kick myself because I did not bring my camera and have no photos. What we stumbled upon on Monday night in the middle of Rome on the Spanish Steps was an operatic concert and dancing troupe, and it was a professional production, complete with stage lighting and speakers. The audience was seated on the Spanish Steps, and it was packed. We walked up from behind and got right up to the fountain, with the players and singers across the fountain from us. A nice Italian woman gave Genene a seat on the fountain's edge. She whispered, “We have the best seats in the house.” (and we did). Genene sat enthralled watching the spectacle and listening to the beautiful music in that beautiful place. There were two women, two men, and a group of six dancers. They sang classical opera like Carmen. They also tossed in other beauties, like “Moon River”, “La Vie en Rose.” As I have said in earlier blogs, I have been overwhelmed. I have already seen so much and really been amazed…..but tonight was the first night I felt the magic.

Sunday in Rome: the Colosseum, the Forum, Piazza Navona, and the Pantheon

I am overwhelmed today, and this blog will be the casualty. We saw and did so much, and Jose taught us so much that I am too exhausted to write any of it down and share it here. Luckily, this new camera takes some fabulous pictures, so I am going with the theory that a picture is worth a thousand words. I will talk less today and post more photos.

We were to meet Jose at the Colosseum this morning, and we made some strategic errors that compounded our exhaustion. We caught a cab to our meeting place and arrived very early. We thought we would get a step up on the day's events by picking up our tickets, which we had reserved. It was about a 20 minute walk, and none of the ticket booths were open so we had to turn around to get back to our Jose rendez-vous point. We got waylaid by the “gladiators,” men who dress up and aggressively try to get you to be photographed with them. After taking pictures, they want money. We had read about the routine but were still taken in. I think the pictures are amusing though very cheesy.


The morning's coffees started working on me, and I became increasingly desperate for a bathroom. Public restrooms in Rome early on Sunday morning are impossible to find, and I was really very uncomfortable! Finally a tour guide waiting for his own group to assemble sensed my desperation, took pity on me and pointed me to an open coffee shop. I went in and, of course, the man behind the counter told me that the bathroom was “occupato.” My desperation was at its most acute as I stood (danced) outside that toilet door waiting for it to open. Genene thought it was all quite hilarious. Finally the door opened, and I can tell you gratefully that I did not pee my pants in Rome, though it was a very close call.

I came out to find Jose drinking coffee at the counter. The shop was not our intended meeting place, but it worked out perfectly. We began our tour by walking back down the street that Greg, Genene and I had just traveled up and down in our aborted attempt to get the tickets. We should have trusted Jose. He noticed that the Forum was practically empty and chose to take us there first. He talked the ticket agent at the Forum into honoring our voucher, which was supposed to be turned in at the Colosseum. There was virtually no line, and we walked straight into history.

As I said, I am too tired to try to relate to you everything we learned about the Forum. It is history stacked upon history stacked upon history. There are columns and ruins that date back from before the time of Christ. We heard about Romulus and Remus, Julius Caesar, Jesus Christ, emperors and popes too numerous for me to remember. We learned about architecture in the time of the emperors, the medieval age and even the fascist era. It is all still standing in a hodgepodge there in the Forum. Jose is a godsend. He makes it all interesting and accessible for all of us. He explains things in a way that Genene can understand, and he points out the mythological figures to her. He turns to Greg and me and describes things that would interest an adult. When he thinks something might be too intense or “adult” for Genene, he checks with us first before mentioning it. He is a great guide and an interesting person.

The sky is perfectly blue, but it is very hot. As I said, I am just going to share pictures and skip descriptions. Perhaps in the coming days, I can take the time to relate some of the stories.

Julius Caesar walked here. “Friends, Romans, Countrymen…..”


Below is a detail from one of the columns in the Forum.

Genene and Jose can be seen at the right. This is the view of the Forum as seen from the Temple of the Vestal Virgins.

A relief that is located inside the old Roman Senate building. These are animals that would have been routinely sacrificed: a boar, a ram and an ox.
Green among the ruins.
If you know where to look, you can see architecture from the time before Christ, medieval times and Mussolini's reign, all jumbled into the Forum.
The Arch of Titus commemorates Rome's conquest of Jerusalem. Jewish slaves were brought to Rome and made to help build the arch that told of their defeat.

Genene is at the exterior of the Colosseum.


Inside the Colosseum. They have restored a portion of the arena floor so that you can better imagine what it must have looked like. You can see underneath, where the animals were kept. They were let into the arena via trap doors. Gladiators also came in from under the floor. In the first 100 days of games when the Colosseum opened, 5,000 animals were slaughtered. I did not get a count of the men.


Genene inside the Colosseum. The amphitheater could hold 50,000 people. There were sufficient stairs, ramps, gates and entry points so that the people could be moved in and out in 20 minutes. I wish that Reliant were so well made in that regard.

Neptune fights an octopus in Piazza Navona.

Genene and Jose start the evening tour.

The Four Rivers Fountain in Piazza Navona.

Another view of the Pantheon.


As I said, I am sorry I do not have more to say. We are simply overwhelmed. Rome is amazing.


Saturday: first adventures and meeting Jose

We were all exhausted and went to bed early on Friday night after dinner and a quick stroll around the neighborhood. I had the best night's sleep I have gotten in many months. It is nice to have work worries off my mind for a while. We had breakfast at the apartment and set out on a morning adventure. Our goal was to head to Campo di Fiori, an open market. We wanted some fresh fruits and vegetables and thought we could take in some sights on the way.

FIrst things first. This next picture is for my mom. Mom, the apartment is really safe. Take a look at the locks!

So we locked up. We decided to navigate to Campo di Fiori by going to two certain landmarks. The streets are like spaghetti in a bowl, and it would be easy to get lost, I think. First we headed for the Trevi Fountain. The fountain was built to “show off” the termination point of one of the Roman aquaducts, and it is beautiful. Genene was annoyed because we did not have any coins for her to throw in. Legend has it that if you toss a coin over your shoulder and into the fountain, you will be assured a return trip to Rome. We promised Genene that we would be back to the fountain several times, since it is close to our apartment.

From the fountain, we navigated to the Pantheon and stepped inside for a moment to cool off. Our guide will bring us back there, so I won't linger here talking about it (since I don't know what I am talking about). I took a photograph of a small detail of the wall and column.

The next photograph is the exterior of the Pantheon. We'll be back.

We made it to Campo di Fiori just in time for Genene to say that she was tired and starving so we stopped for a quick bite of lunch and then made our way into the market. They had fruits and vegetables of every kind, all out in the open air. I drank freshly squeezed pomagranite juice, which was tart and delicious. We bought beautiful strawberries, blackberries, and cantaloupe. One of the more aggressive vendors talked me into a small glass jar of over-priced red pesto. It was very tasty, but I think I was caught up in the moment and spent too much. No worries. It will be eaten. I am sorry to say that I did not get any photos of the market. I am sure we will go back so I will try to remember to take pictures next time.

We got back to the apartment hot and tired. Greg and I adopted the “when in Rome” philosophy and took an afternoon siesta. We tried to encourage Genene to do the same, but she chose to stay up watching TV. Yes, they have Nickolodeon here too. Kids can rot their brains all over the world.

Today, we met our guide, Jose Grave de Peralta. He came to us highly recommended by the friend of a friend, and we were excited to meet him after several weeks of corresponding with him to set things up. Jose is a Cuban-born artist living in Rome. You can read more about his work here. We do not usually use a tour guide, but there is just too much to see and do in Rome. I felt we would be remiss if we did not get someone to help educate us.

Jose arrived on time and gave Genene a children's book on Rome. He laid out a map on the kitchen table and gave us some general orientation tips. Then we were off to the streets, with Jose leading us around our neighborhood. He walked us back down to the Spanish Steps and explained the significance of the things we were seeing. For instance, we had passed by a statue perched very high above the city. We had not even noticed it last night when we walked by it, but Jose explained that it was a statue of the Virgin Mary. Each December 8 is the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception. The Pope rides in his Pope-mobile from the Vatican to this Piazza Mignanelli and rides a cherry-picker (!) up to replace the wreath on the Virgin Mary. The Pope has some interesting duties!

We strolled back to the base of the Spanish Steps, and Jose explained that the Spanish Steps are so called because they are near the Spanish embassy. The fountain at the base of the steps is shaped like a boat, supposedly a reference to the Spanish Armada. We saw many people filling their water bottles there in the cool waters.

Jose is going to spoil Genene. Of that, I am certain. She mentioned that she wanted to try a cannoli (“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”) Jose took her straight down Via Condotti, Rome's equivalent of LA's Rodeo Drive. We watched them fill the tube shaped shell with ricotta and chocolate.

Jose and I each had a strong Italian espresso. I tried to drink it in one or two gulps, as the Italians do. It was delicious but made me sweat even more.

We ended our day much as we started it, with a return trip to the Trevi Fountain. This time, Jose explained what each of the statues symbolized, and the experience was much more meaningful. I won't bore you with everything (because I don't remember it all), but there are a couple of useful illustrations. Take a look at the photo below. Do you see the wild, winged horse on the left that appears to be out of control? He symbolizes how water can be “wild.” (Anyone who has sailed knows this horse.) The horse on the right is the calm face of water, tame water. Now take a look at the lady over the head of the left horse. She is carrying a cornucopia. That symbolizes water's gift to us in the form of making things grow. The woman on the right is carrying an urn and (you may not be able to see this) there is a snake coiled around and drinking from it. (Remember when snakes were used in pharmacies?) The snake in this instance represents healing, as in the healing powers of water.

So you see that in the morning, all I could say is, “Wow, what a pretty fountain.” With Jose's help, we saw so much more in the afternoon. Best of all, we had a coin for Genene, so she got to make her wish. She was not shy about pushing her way through the crowds to get to the fountain, but in the end, she needed one block from Mom to make it all the way up to the fountain's edge. I do not know what she wished for.

Jose dropped us at the apartment in late afternoon, and Genene was exhausted. She tried to read the book Jose gave her but soon collapsed into a heap. It's 7:00 PM, and she's still snoozing.

We will wake her up soon and go out to eat. Tomorrow is a big day. We are heading for the Colosseum!


First bites and the view from the Spanish Steps

I apologize for sending two blogs in one day, but I had to show you this food. Those who know me know how I love a good meal!

We rested at the apartment for a while and then walked downstairs for a bite to eat. This restaurant is right downstairs from the apartment. We were starving and thus our judgment may be impaired….but I thought it was delicious.


First we had the prosciutto and melon.


I had fresh tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, and mozzarella.

Genene had the prosciutto, tomato and cheese pizza. (We love the ham!)


Greg had a seafood risotto.

I had the eggplant parmigiano.


After pigging out, we walked over to the Spanish Steps and watched the show. It's beautiful.


Good night!



Rome 2012: the adventure begins

I finished my last work meeting on Wednesday afternoon and went back to the office to finish up. Getting out of town for this trip was difficult. My workload has been very heavy this year, and there were a ton of loose ends to tie up. I got some of it done, and the rest I dumped on the poor young lawyers I left behind. They've got my back, and that's a good feeling.

I spent all morning Thursday packing and finally felt as if I had it under control by about 3:00 pm and was able to relax a bit and wait on our car to arrive. We like to hire a driver to take us to the airport. It's not that much more expensive than paying for parking, and it is just so relaxing to let them fight the Houston rush hour traffic while I stare out the window and dream of Rome.

We arrived at George Bush Intercontinental and got through security with tons of time to spare, so we ate dinner in the airport. Our flight was 20 minutes delayed, which was slightly worrisome to us, as we had a very tight connection to make. We planned this trip months in advance, but one thing I had not thought about was the London Olympics. We had managed to book a flight with a 1 hour 15 minute connection time in Heathrow in London. We had read, no so comfortingly, that Heathrow's busiest day EVER was Thursday, the day we were leaving. Somehow, I always manage to get us into the thick of things.

Our flight from Houston to London was uneventful. British Airways is very friendly and efficient. Their people seem genuinely interested in your comfort. The food was not great but was serviceable. I did find it odd that one of their choices was a chicken curry. Don't get me wrong–I love curry, but it seems a strange choice for an enclosed space like a plane. It stunk the place up pretty good, but it did drown out the smell of some man's rancid feet. I ate my meal, took a sleeping pill and abandoned Genene and Greg to the fates.

Our pilot took advantage of the tailwinds and had us to Heathrow back on schedule. Unfortunately he had no place to land so we circled around London for 15 minutes while he got cleared to land. Our connection was going be challenging! We had about 40 minutes to find our gate AND clear security again. Heathrow was quite crowded but they had plenty of personnel on hand pushing the crowds in the right direction. When we got to main terminal 5, I showed our boarding passes to the first security person I saw and told him we had a short time to connect. He directed us to the “fast track” area and said, “Run, Madame.” And so we did. We raced through the terminal, which always makes me think of O. J. Simpson, made it through security without a hitch, and got to our gate to find that our Rome flight was 15 minutes delayed. Whew! That gave us time to gather our gear and our senses. Greg had a momentary panic when he couldn't find his passport, but it was only hiding in a backpack pocket. As we get older, it seems that we spend a lot of time looking for things we just had in our hands a second ago. I swear, I think they shift back and forth into other dimensions. The other day I couldn't find the can opener in the kitchen, and it was right in front of me….or was it?

We made it to Rome a little bit late, and there was a surge of humanity getting off the plane and onto the transport trains to go to baggage pickup. I think it was worse than Heathrow. We taught Genene how to say “good afternoon, madame” in Italian and gave her the passports. She got us through immigration with only those three words. She's pretty handy. We got our bags and headed for the exit, where our driver was supposed to be waiting for us. The doors opened, and it was wall-to-wall people staring at us, each one waiting to pick up his or her own family member. I despaired of ever seeing our driver in that mass of people. I told Greg, “It will be blind luck if we ever see him” and as the words came out of my mouth, Greg said, “There he is!” Our driver was friendly and greeted us in English. He grabbed my bags and Genene's and led the way to the car. He had been recommended to us by our apartment owner, and he was worth every penny. He called the apartment greeter so that she would be waiting for us and then navigated through the Roman streets like a champion. I could NEVER have driven that car down those streets. The streets are extremely narrow, and people walk in them. He barely missed at least half a dozen people, and they all took it in stride. I guess we will be out there walking those streets tomorrow.

He drove us right by the Colosseum. I wonder if he needed to do that, or if he just wanted to be the first one to show it to us. I didn't get any pictures because we will be going back, but the tears welled up in my eyes, just to see it. I always feel so blessed to be able to see the world's wonders. I'm still just that little ole girl from Arkansas.

Our apartment greeter, Elvi, was very kind. She had already stocked the refrigerator with water, juice, coffee, breakfast biscuits, etc. We were told that she spoke English, and she did, after a fashion. We caught most of it, but I am sure that some of the fine details of the apartment were lost on us. We are a two minute walk from the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps, so we will go there shortly.

Greg just went out to get pizzas and wine. We are going to eat in and unpack and get on Roman time.

I leave you with three pictures. The first one is the view from our balcony.


We also have a rooftop terrace. The steps up to it are narrow and scary. As Elvi led us up, she kept saying, “Mamma Mia!” Genene loves it.


Finally, this photo shows the small table on the rooftop. You can see the dome of St. Peter's Basilica on the left. We are going to love sitting up here in the morning and in the late evening, drinking wine and watching the Roman world go around.


Ciao for now!